Austria introduces $3.50 go-anywhere public transport ticket to fight climate change

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Fifteen years after it was first proposed, Austria's new Klimaticket, or climate ticket, goes live on October 26. Offering seamless travel across all modes of public transport it is intended to galvanize the Alpine nation's fight against climate change. The annual pass, priced at $1,267 (€1,095), works out at just $24 (€21) per week or $3.50 a day. If all goes according to plan, it should encourage people to swap their cars for more climate-friendly forms of getting around.

National passes and discount cards are nothing new in Europe. Switzerland, Austria and Germany, among others, offer monthly travel passes, half-fare cards and other discounts to encourage public transport use. What makes Austria's new offer different is its remarkably low price. Switzerland's General Abonnement (GA) travelcard offers unlimited use of the Confederation's entire public transport network, but costs three times as much. A similar annual ticket for buses, trains and metro in the Netherlands is more than $3,500 (€3,066).

"One of the things I like about Klimaticket is that it is valid on all modes of public transport, a concept that should be replicated elsewhere as it removes the hassle of having to find and buy multiple tickets," says European rail travel expert Andy Brabin.

"It is potentially revolutionary, removing some of the barriers to using public transport and making spontaneous trips much easier as you don't have to worry about buying tickets, which can often be expensive at short notice for longer journeys."

No less than $278 million (€240 million) of federal government funding has been agreed to support the new initiative. Ongoing costs are expected to be around $175 million (€150 million) a year. Despite this, the ticket is regarded as central to Austria's ambition to become climate neutral by 2040 -- backed by the European Union's post-Covid "Green Deal."

The country certainly has the requisite core rail network and urban transport systems around major cities such as Vienna and Graz. These have benefited from a policy of continuous development, broadly supported across the political spectrum.

At the periphery of the system the story is less positive.

Decades of rural rail closures have cut many smaller towns off from the national network -- but on secondary lines that remain, there now seems to be more willingness to improve infrastructure, enhance timetables and replace polluting diesel trains with electric, battery or hydrogen trains.

Klimaticket could boost improvement prospects still further, especially when coupled with targeted investment in feeder bus routes and active mobility.

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