from the world's big
A world first: Luxembourg's public transport to be free for all
Luxembourg will offer the world's first fare-free public transit system, but is there really such a thing as a free ride?
- To combat congestion, Luxembourg aims to become the first country to implement fare-free public transit services.
- Other European nations are considering similar courses, but across the pond the United States continues to fumble its public transportation to deleterious effects.
- Luxembourg's goal is noble, but it will have to overcome historic trends showing such fare-free systems rarely work in the long run.
In our popular consciousness, public transportation dredges up images of graffiti, sullen-eyed workers, and urban riffraff. See, for example, every movie to ever feature a scene on a bus. Meanwhile, private transportation enjoys glowing fulsome marketing and even vehicle names—think Fiesta, Sonata, Forester, and Mustang—elicit feelings of wealth, class, and freedom.
This tendency leaves our popular consciousness blind to the many benefits of public transit. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), public transportation yields $4 of economic return for every dollar invested. It increases business sales by helping workers get to work and customers get to stores. And it can help curb greenhouse gas emissions. In the United States alone, public transportation saves 4.2 billion gallons of gas annually.
Such benefits flow to individual households, too. For every dollar earned, notes the APTA, the average American household spends 18 cents on transportation, most of which goes to operating and maintaining a vehicle. Using public transit and having one fewer car, families could save as much as $10,000 a year.
Looking to augment these benefits, Luxembourg has decided to be the first country to lift all fares on trains, trams, and buses.
Come on and take a free ride
A Luxembourg train passes over a bridge.
(Photo from Pixabay)
Luxembourg will offer free fares on public transportation next summer. The change will be implemented as part of Prime Minister Xavier Bettel's progressive and environmentally friendly platform, which he and his Democratic party ran on in the previous election.
In addition to limiting greenhouse gases, the fare-free policy also hopes to ease the country's incredibly high congestion rate. Luxembourg sports 647 cars for every 1,000 people, and residents currently spend an average of 32.21 hours a year in traffic jams—great for getting through your audiobook collection but not much else.
Nor is such a move completely out of the blue. As Guardian contributor Daniel Boffey points out, Luxembourg's public transit is already heavily subsidized and the fare-free system is just another step in its increasingly "progressive attitude to transport." This summer, the government offered free rides to people under 20, as well as free shuttles for secondary school students. On average, commuters pay €2 for up to two hours of travel. In a country half the size of Delaware, that goes a long way.
Luxembourg also hopes that running costs will be reduced by removing the need to collect and process fares. But there are some issues remaining, such as figuring out how to prevent free-riding sleepers and urging those with means to reduce their car usage (i.e., the tragedy of the commons).
Some got a ticket to ride (and some don't care)
Swiss public transit is heavily subsidized and offers amenities such as this in-coach playground.
(Photo from Ticki Park)
Other countries plan to follow in Luxembourg's fare-free footsteps. Estonia hopes to make bus travel free for citizens across the country, after a pilot program in the capital city of Tallinn proved popular. In Tallinn, residents have to register as a citizen and pay €2 for a "green card" to ride gratis. Thanks to the required registration, the city plans to make up costs with increased collection of taxes.
"A good this is, of course, that it mostly appeals to people with lower to medium incomes," Allan Alaküla, head of the Tallinn European Union office, told Pop Up City. "But free public transport also stimulates the mobility of higher-income groups. They are simply going out more often for entertainment, to restaurants, bars and cinemas. Therefore, they consume local goods and services and are likely to spend more money, more often. In the end this makes local businesses thrive. It breathes new life into the city."
Paris, France, is also looking to providing free public transport to reduce pollution, and the Swiss public transit system, while not free, is heavily subsidized and offers amenities such as family coaches with playgrounds.
Across the pond, the United States' public transit system is moving in the opposite direction. John Rennie Short, professor at the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, identifies four reasons for the decline in the quality and breadth of U.S. public transportation: our early adoption of the private vehicle, the abandonment of mass transit systems in the '40s and '50s, constrained governmental funding, and the tension "between private affluence and public squalor."
"Building something new gives politicians a photo opportunity, replacing frayed electrical cable does not," Short writes. "And there are many other claims on government such as pensions, schools, Social Security and a large military. Our infrastructure chasm is a quiet, slow-moving but relentless crisis only brought into focus when wires fray to the point of immediate danger."
Political bifurcation has also stymied public transit system in the U.S. With the car the symbol of individualism, public transport has become associated with welfare and socialism, and politicians have voted accordingly. The U.S.'s top transit systems are located in the Democrat-leaning West and Northeast, while the Republican South has the worst. The Midwest is mixed.
Easy rider come (easy rider go)
Tired people travel by the Belo Horizonte Metro in Brazil.
(Photo from Good Free Photos)
But just because Luxembourg offers free public transportation doesn't mean it will be successful. Although Tallinn's free-fare system is popular among voters, outcomes have been mixed. One study found that the capital's fare-free system increased usage by 14 percent and improved low-income mobility; however, it also found that the program had little effect on ridership.
Similarly, the Swiss public system may be subsidized and resplendent, but private vehicle use still outpaces public transport by many billion kilometers.
Luxembourg also has to contend with a history of failed fare-free systems. Rome attempted such a system in the 1970s to ease congestion, but it proved a costly experiment. The city had to reinstate fares after only six months. In the U.S. Denver, Trenton, and Austin also had unsuccessful bids at fare-free systems. A report based on these experiments from the National Center for Transportation Research concluded that such fare-free services aren't appropriate for large transit systems.
Writing for the Atlantic, Joe Pinsker argues that it makes more sense to implement free transit as a specialized tool, not on a grand scale. He cites the failed attempts mentioned above, but also Singapore's successful program to comp commuter tickets for travel during non-peak hours.
"Perhaps the cost of public transportation shouldn't be looked at from an angle of reducing traffic and emissions," Pinsker writes. "Maybe free public transit should be thought of not as a behavioral instrument, but as a right; poorer citizens have just as much of a privilege to get around conveniently as wealthier ones. If the debate shifted from means-to-an-end thinking to pure egalitarianism, the hope of public transit might actually be realized."
We'll have to wait to see if Luxembourg bucks the trend Pinsker laid out. One thing is certain, though: The strains modern society puts on traditional infrastructure are enormous, and we'll need a variety of new and reconsidered transportation approaches to ease it.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
In more than a dozen countries as far apart as Portugal and Russia, 'Smith' is the most popular occupational surname
- 'Smith' is not just the most common surname in many English-speaking countries
- In local translations, it's also the most common occupational surname in a large part of Europe
- Ironically, Smiths are so ubiquitous today because smiths were so special a few centuries ago
Meet the Smiths, Millers, Priests and Imams - the most popular occupational surnames across Europe.
Image: Marcin Ciura<p>Although very few people are smiths by profession these days, there are millions of Smiths by surname the world over. It's the most popular surname in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, as well as the second most popular surname in Canada and the fifth most popular one in Ireland. And they're a thriving bunch, at least in the U.S.: the 2010 Census (1) counted 2,442,977 Americans called Smith, 2.8% more than in 2000.</p><p>Curiously, 'Smith' also is one of the most popular surnames across most of Europe –translated in the various local vernaculars, of course. This map shows the most common occupational surnames in each country. By colour-coding the professions, this map shows a remarkable pro-smith consistency across Europe – as well as some curious regional exceptions.</p>
‘Smith’ popular throughout Europe<p>'Smith', in all its variations, is the most popular occupational surname throughout Europe. Not just in the UK, but also in:</p> <ul><li>Belgium (<em>Desmet</em>) and Luxembourg, (<em>Schmitt</em>);</li> <li>France (<em>Lefebvre</em>), Italy (<em>Ferrari</em>) and Portugal (<em>Ferreira</em>);</li> <li>Slovenia (<em>Kovačič</em>), Croatia (<em>Kovačevič</em>), Hungary (<em>Kovács</em>), Slovakia (<em>Kováč</em>), Poland (<em>Kowalski</em>), Lithuania (<em>Kavaliauskas</em>), Latvia (<em>Kalējs</em>) and Belarus (<em>Kavalyov</em>);</li> <li>Estonia (<em>Sepp</em>); and</li> <li>Russia (<em>Kuznetsov</em>).</li></ul>
‘Miller’ on top in many Germanic-language countries<p>'Miller' is the most popular occupational surname in many Germanic-language countries, but also in Spain and Ukraine (perhaps because the grain in both countries is mainly in the plain):</p> <ul><li>There's <em>Müller</em> (in Germany and Switzerland), <em>M</em><em>ø</em><em>ller</em> (in Denmark and Norway) and <em>Möller</em> (Sweden);</li> <li><em>Molina</em> (in Spain – the map also shows the most popular surname in Catalonia/Catalan: <em>Ferrer</em>, i.e. 'Smith'); and</li> <li><em>Melnik</em> (in Ukraine).</li></ul>
Clergy surnames rule in the Balkans<p>Catholic clergy must remain celibate, so 'Priest' as a surname is rare to non-existent throughout Europe. Except in the Balkans, where Catholicism is largely absent. Here, the Orthodox and Islamic clergies have passed on the title from father to son, eventually as a surname, to popular effect. Orthodox clergy are addressed as <em>papa</em> or <em>pope</em> (which means 'father' – so the surname rather redundantly translates to 'father's son'). Islamic teachers or imams are known by the Turkish/Persian term <em>hodzha</em>. An overview:</p> <ul><li><em>Popov</em> (in Bulgaria), <em>Popovic</em> (in both Serbia and Montenegro), <em>Popovski</em> (in Macedonia);</li> <li><em>Popa</em> (in Romania); </li> <li><em>Papadopoulos</em> (in Greece); and</li> <li><em>Hodžić</em> (in Bosnia-Herzegovina), <em>Hoxha</em> (in both Kosovo and Albania).</li></ul>
Landowners and other professions<p>Austria and the Czech Republic have different national languages but are neighbours and share a lot of history. Could that explain why they have a similar most popular occupational surname, for 'landowner'?</p> <ul><li><em>Huber</em> (in Austria) and</li> <li><em>Dvořák</em> (in the Czech Republic).</li></ul> <p>Just four professions, that wraps up all but five countries on this map. Those five each have their very own most popular occupational surname:</p> <ul><li><em>Bakker</em> (in the Netherlands): 'Baker'</li> <li><em>Kinnunen</em> (in Finland): 'Skinner'</li> <li><em>Ceban</em> (in Moldova): 'Shepherd'</li> <li><em>Avci</em> (in Turkey): 'Hunter'</li> <li><em>Murphy</em> (in Ireland): 'Sea Warrior' </li></ul>
Even more Smiths<p>Judging from the popularity of these surnames, your generic European village of a few centuries ago really couldn't do without a smithy. It was a much more essential craft even than that of the miller (or the baker, who put the miller's flour to good use) – except in the Balkans, where spiritual sustenance apparently sated a greater need. On the outskirts of <em>Anytown, Europe</em> live the shepherd and the hunter, the skinner and the pirate.<br></p><p>A bit too simplistic? Perhaps not simplistic enough. This map could have been dominated by even more Smiths. As the original poster explains, he always picked the most frequent version of an occupational surname, even if multiple variants point to a more popular alternative. </p><p>In the Netherlands, for instance, people with the surnames <em>Smit, Smits, Smid, de Smit, Smet </em>and <em>Smith</em> collectively outnumber those with the surnames <em>Bakker, Bekker, de Bakker</em> and <em>Backer</em>. So, the Netherlands could be considered another win for 'Smith' – except that the variant <em>Bakker</em> is more frequent than any other single variant.</p><p>Same story in Germany: added up, there are more people named <em>Schmidt, Schmitt, Schmitz </em>and <em>Schmid</em> than <em>Müller</em>. Ditto for Spain: <em>Herrero, Herrera </em>and <em>Ferrer</em> together outnumber <em>Molina</em>. Also in Finland, where <em>Seppä</em>, <em>Seppälä</em> and <em>Seppänen</em> together have a higher count than <em>Kinnunen</em>. </p>
Smiths in other cultures<p>'Smith' was a crucial occupation in other cultures too, judging from the familiar ring it has in these languages:<br></p><ul><li><em></em><em>Demirci</em> (Turkish)</li><li><em>Hadad</em> (Syriac, Aramaic, Arabic)</li><li><em>Nalbani</em> (Albanian)</li><li><em>McGowan</em> (Gaelic)</li><li><em>Faber</em> (Latin)<span></span></li></ul>
Other most popular surnames<p>Take note, though: 'Smith' may be the most popular surname in in the Anglosphere, this map does not mean to show that its variants in French, Russian and other languages also are the most popular surnames in the countries marked grey. They are merely the most popular <em>occupational</em> surnames.<br></p><p>As this sample of most common ones for each country shows, surnames can refer to a host of other things. Personal qualities or physical attributes, for example:</p> <ul><li>Russia: <em>Smirnov</em> ('the quiet one')</li> <li>Turkey: <em>Yilmaz</em> ('unflinching')</li> <li>Hungary: <em>Nagy</em> ('big')</li> <li>Italy: <em>Rossi/Russo</em> ('red', in northern and southern Italy, respectively)</li></ul> <p>Another option: the origin of the name-bearer (be it a place or a person):</p> <ul><li>Sweden: <em>Andersson</em> ('son of Anders')</li> <li>Slovakia: <em>Horvath</em> ('Croat')</li> <li>Kosovo: <em>Krasniqi</em> (refers to the Krasniq tribe and their mountainous home region)</li> <li>Portugal: <em>Silva</em> ('woodland')</li> <li>Latvia: <em>Bērziņš</em> ('little birch tree')</li> <li>Estonia: <em>Tamm</em> ('oak')</li></ul> <p>But sometimes, even for the most popular ones, the exact origin of the surname is lost in time:</p> <ul><li>Spain: <em>Garcia</em> (originally Basque, possibly meaning 'young', 'bear' or 'young bear')</li> <li>Finland: <em>Korhonen</em> ('hard of hearing' or 'dim-witted'; 'village elder'; 'proud'; 'upright'). </li></ul>
Smith popularity theory<p>So why exactly is Smith – and not Miller, for example – the most popular surname in many English-speaking countries? The theory propounded by historian C.M. Matthews in <em>History Today</em> (July 1967) probably also holds for the other-language variants so popular throughout Europe:<br></p><blockquote>"The reason for (the) multiplicity (of the surname 'Smith') is not so much that metal-workers were numerous as that they were important and widespread. On the skill of the smith, both rich and poor depended for the most essential things of life, the tools of husbandry and the weapons of hunting and war. Every community in the land must have one, every castle, every manor; and so distinctive was his trade that he would seldom need another name".<em></em></blockquote><p>That does not mean all people with the surname have a forefather who forged iron into weapons and farm tools. Especially in North America, 'Smith' was adopted by many people precisely because it was already common – as a secret identity or to blend in, for example by natives, slaves and immigrants.</p>
A recent analysis of a 76-million-year-old Centrosaurus apertus fibula confirmed that dinosaurs suffered from cancer, too.
- The fibula was originally discovered in 1989, though at the time scientists believed the damaged bone had been fractured.
- After reanalyzing the bone, and comparing it with fibulas from a human and another dinosaur, a team of scientists confirmed that the dinosaur suffered from the bone cancer osteosarcoma.
- The study shows how modern techniques can help scientists learn about the ancient origins of diseases.
Centrosaurus apertus fibula
Royal Ontario Museum<p>In the recent study, the team used a combination of techniques to analyze the fibula, including taking CT scans, casting the bone and studying thin slices of it under a microscope. The analysis suggested that the dinosaur likely suffered from osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that affects modern humans, typically young adults.</p><p>For further evidence, the team compared the damaged fibula to a healthy fibula from a dinosaur of the same species, and also to a fibula that belonged to a 19-year-old human who suffered from osteosarcoma. Both comparisons supported the osteosarcoma diagnosis.</p>
Evans et al.<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The shin bone shows aggressive cancer at an advanced stage," Evans said in a <a href="https://www.rom.on.ca/en/about-us/newsroom/press-releases/rare-malignant-cancer-diagnosed-in-a-dinosaur" target="_blank">press release</a>. "The cancer would have had crippling effects on the individual and made it very vulnerable to the formidable tyrannosaur predators of the time."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The fact that this plant-eating dinosaur lived in a large, protective herd may have allowed it to survive longer than it normally would have with such a devastating disease."</p><p>The fossilized fibula was originally unearthed in a bonebed alongside the remains of dozens of other <em>Centrosaurus </em><em>apertus</em>, suggesting the dinosaur didn't die from cancer, but from a flood that swept it away with its herd.</p>
Dinosaur fibula; the tumor mass is depicted in yellow.
Royal Ontario Museum/McMaster University<p>The new study highlights how modern techniques can help scientists learn more about the evolutionary origins of modern diseases, like cancer. It also shows that dinosaurs suffered through some of the same terrestrial afflictions humans face today.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Dinosaurs can seem like mythical creatures, but they were living, breathing animals that suffered through horrible injuries and diseases," Evans said, "and this discovery certainly makes them more real and helps bring them to life in that respect."</p>
Join the lauded author of Range in conversation with best-selling author and poker pro Maria Konnikova!
UPDATE: Unfortunately, Malcolm Gladwell was not able to make the live stream due to scheduling issues. Fortunately, David Epstein was able to jump in at a moment's notice. We hope you enjoy this great yet unexpected episode of Big Think Live. Our thanks to David and Maria for helping us deliver a show, it is much appreciated.