Planka: is public transport welfare?

Do you know Planka?

Planka is a Stockholm based organisation of public transport fare dodgers. If you happen to swipe your ticket and feel somebody sliding up behind you in any place of the world, it would be either a fare dodger or, at worst, sexual bother. If you are in Stockholm, it may well be a political action.


The NY Times has recently dedicated an article to this organisation. In order to be part of Planka, you have to pay a monthly fee (15€, way less than the cost of monthly pass) and to commit yourself not to pay for public transport in any circumstance. The association would cover the fines you would get. During the years (I had heard of it from a Swedish fellow roughly 8 years ago and they were already well organised), the organisation had been able to develop a set of tricks for passing even the toughest turnstiles, their members to get so few fines that the Planka budget is in active.

But Planka is not just a crew of fellows unwilling or unable to pay their passes, it has a political commitment and fare dodging is considered as a collective fare strike. The idea is simple: public transport is a public service such as health and education are, hence it should be paid by everybody (through taxes), even those who do not use it. This is basically an idea of a welfarist society – such as Northern European ones are or like to depict themselves –, applied to public transport.

You may agree or not with the idea that public services should be paid by taxes, hence free for everybody (isn’t it the basic idea of welfare?). But if you do agree, why not comprising public transport within the welfare state? Public transport is not just an important service (somebody would say a right), it produces positive externalities (e.g. it reduces traffic, hence pollution, hence it improves public health).

Why has always public transport been considered as different from other public services? Whether you agree or not to Planka, this is a question worth exploring.

(Simone Tulumello)


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