Free public transport: Vaud to vote on groundbreaking new proposal

Free public transport: Vaud to vote on groundbreaking new proposal

The government of Vaud has approved a new referendum which would make public transport free in the canton. The vote is one of many attempts by Swiss cantons and cities to make public transport free, but the referendum in Vaud is the first to be given the go-ahead.

Vote on free public transport in Vaud the first to go ahead

Currently, the public pays for half of the running costs of public transport - subsidised by tickets and fines - while the government pays for the other half. The new plans would see the full cost of public transport levied on the government, allowing the residents of Lausanne and Montreux to use the network for free.

Previous attempts to make public transport free in the cities of Bern and Zurich were declared “invalid” by cantonal authorities, citing a violation of the Federal Constitution which expects passengers to bear a “reasonable part” of the cost of transportation. The referendum in Vaud is the first to be approved for a vote, which the canton says is because the idea of free public transport does not violate any “higher-ranking law.” 

Free public transport vote likely to end at Swiss Supreme Court

Legal expert Felix Uhlmann cast doubt on whether the vote would go ahead, noting that although cantons have a lot of leeway on offering free public transport, making it universal “definitely crosses into a grey area.” Uhlmann is currently drafting an expert opinion for the government on the matter, which will decide how much flexibility each canton has to provide free transport.

He made the point that the constitution can be easily interpreted in different ways. He said the Federal Council and Swiss government saw the word “reasonable” as a price that wasn’t too cheap, in order to not attract too high a demand. Those in Vaud argue that the canton will still pay for public transport through taxation, meaning that the public would technically still pay for it.

Uhlmann expected the case to end up in the Federal Supreme Court, as the Swiss government in Bern has already submitted a declaration calling for the vote to be invalidated. If the vote does go ahead, it is expected that more and more cantons will consider following Vaud’s lead.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Editor for Switzerland at IamExpat Media. Jan studied History at the University of York and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Though born in York, Jan has lived most...

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