Free public transit for all

Bill McKibben explores an alternative congestion pricing plan that would make subway and bus rides free

By Bill McKibben

Photo by Travis Ruse

In a sense, the sides in the congestion pricing battle are divided by class. Well-off commuters who tie up the city’s traffic because they need or want to travel alone and on a personal schedule are pitted against residents who are willing to submit to public transit or can’t afford to do otherwise. But a New York free-transit plan could have a broader and more enduring significance: As a microcosm, it helps illustrate the sort of shifts rich nations like the United States will have to make in the next decade to accommodate, say, the growth in energy demand in places like India and China. Our world will soon be one in which those who pollute more per capita will have to start paying for it. That, it seems, will be our future cost of living—and it will be a lot easier to swallow if some things come for free.

Bill McKibben is the author of The End of Nature, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, and others. He is the recipient of the 2000 Lannan Literary Award for nonfiction, and founder of Step It Up, an organization whose nationwide day of climate change protest in 2007 ( is considered the largest to date in the US.

Originally published in the June/July 2008 issue of Plenty. 

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At some point, with significantly less traffic, maybe more people will start riding a bicycle to work, to the movies, to the store, to church, to the ballgame. That reduces traffic even more.

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