Free fare public transport (FFPT) in Almaty

Almaty hard traffic jams disappear after implementation of full free fare public transport


Free fare or chargeless public transport is the transportation of passengers without charging a fare, when all operating expenses are reimbursed to bus operators from the city budget based on taxes. Fully or partially metro, buses, trolleybuses, trams are chargeless for passengers in Luxembourg, Tallinn, Voronezh.

Full free public transport, does not require complex and expensive ticketing systems, there is no need for controllers, validation devices and cash circulation. The attractiveness of free public buses use increases rapidly, personal car owners reject difficult daily parking and change to comfortable chargeless city buses. Reduction of private car numbers on the streets leads to significant decrease of traffic and emissions. Modal shift from private cars to public transport improve social inclusion, and enhance urban and economic development of cities.

How it works?

Availability payment

The reimbursement of the bus operator costs does not come from ticketing, but is fully paid directly from the city budget to the bus operator for mileage bus/km. in form of «availability payment». The key criteria for bus availability reimbursement is the leasing cost of selected bus model for every specific bus route. Suppose a CNG CityBus, 12-meter Italian IVECO with a capacity of 100 passengers, worth €250,000, has a service life of 7 years or 2,555 days, which implies reimbursement of financial leasing cost of €100 per day. Putting all values together amortization, operational costs, profitability, service divided by bus mileage, we result so called «availability payment» expressed in kilometers of bus route run. Conventionally, 1km. of an IVECO city bus, costs 1€ or 500 tenge for the city budget. Availability payment = €1/km.


The chargeless bus route is strictly regulated by the traffic intervals between buses during peak and regular hours, by number of drivers, equipment of the bus. Fines are deducted from the «availability payment» for any traffic interval violations and passenger complaints. Bus delays, conflicts, unclean interior significantly reduce «availability payment», which bus operator is absolutely not interested in. Thus, Municipality does not chase free riders among millions of passengers, which is almost impossible, but monitors online from the office the intervals of availability of 2,000 buses. The volume of free ride violations is estimated at 30% of the total passenger traffic.

Race for passenger’s cash

By free fare public transport implementation, cash payment to driver is completely excluded, and the chasing race between buses on the roads for passengers dies out, since the city budget pays not the number of passengers, but bus mileage on the route, its punctuality and comfort. By the existing current system, it is absolutely not profitable to be on the route late evening with lack of passengers and drivers often disrupts the schedules, finishing bus work earlier.

Intervals are the key

Info desk at bus stops, in smartphones and in the traffic control center are synchronized to control traffic intervals between buses online and secure service for passengers to evaluate punctuality of the driver offline. The bus, which disciplined follows time intervals on the route, is incredibly attractive for passengers even in the evening, not peak times.

What needs to be done?

Split route

Many historically formed long 30-35 km. bus routes of Almaty are very outdated and ineffective, since the long route section is heterogeneous in terms of traffic, relief and required bus type. Free fare public transport makes significant optimization possible, by the «split» of long inefficient route in two parts, and route scheme revision, since the bus change becomes free for passengers. Split route foreseen the split of one long route of 35km. in two parts of «approaching route» of 20km. and «magistral route» of 15km. Main key «magistral», straight-line routes south-north, west-east are served by large, spacious 12-18-meter buses on dedicated separated bus lines, and «approaching routes» from suburbs use small, efficient 7-10-meter bus shuttles. Thus, the efficiency of the entire long route increase rapidly, its homogeneous occupancy and passenger comfort became more qualitative.

«Approaching bus routes»

Approaching routes are usually longer than the magistral ones, 20-25 km long, transporting passengers from suburbs, and operated by 10-15 comfortable shuttles like Mercedes Sprinter. One «approaching shuttle» from Ermensai, Almalybak, or Baiserke to the magistral avenues of Al-Farabi, Sain or Ryskulov carries up to 500 passengers, running 300 km. a day. Indicative availability payment level for one «approaching shuttle» like Mercedes Sprinter, worth €120,000, is €0.5/km.

«Magistral bus routes»

Magistral routes use straight lines along separated bus lanes on avenues and are served by 20-25 city buses, for example MAN or IVECO, with a capacity of 100 passengers each. The length of the «magistral route» is usually 10-15 km, and daily mileage is up to 300 km. Magistral route is operated by large, roomy city buses, which carries an average of 1000 passengers per day. Approximate availability payment fee for one IVECO «magistral» bus, worth €250,000, is €1/km.

7-year contract duration

It is highly recommended to conclude operation contract between Municipality and private operator for 7 years. This duration is optimal based on (1) the accounting rate of bus depreciation, (2) due to maximum possible financial leasing period of 7 years, (3) and need of costly overhaul after 7 years of bus use.

The norm of 3 drivers per bus

Estimation of 3 drivers per operated bus implies an 18-hour work shift from 5:00 am to 23:00, taking into account refueling, and bus return to the depot, i.e., 6 hours for one driver on the route, with a salary of at least €1000 per month each and accommodation for the driver's family next to bus depot. Buses are expected to be available from 6:00 am to 22:00 for the passengers. So, Almaty bus system requires a minimum of 6,000 professional bus drivers for 2,000 buses.

2000 active buses

Total number of active buses under operation on routes during peak hours for the two-million inhabitants of Almaty in 2021 should be at least 2000 buses, where 1000 large «magistral» buses, and 1000 small «approaching shuttles», bringing passengers from suburbs.

What chargeless public transport will cost for the city budget?

City budget costs

Annual spending of the Almaty city budget to secure full free fare public transport within 1000 IVECO magistral buses and 1000 Mercedes Sprinter approaching shuttles by conditional availability payment of €1/km. for IVECO and €0.5/km. for Mercedes Sprinter will cost in total 82.12 billion tenge a year for 2,000 new buses available on routes from 6:00 to 22:00.

The estimation is amazingly accurate with the calculation of passenger ticketing transactions multiplied by amount of one subsidized trip. The total price of a subsidized passenger trip is 250 tenge, with 1 million transactions on weekdays, 800 thousand transactions on Saturdays and 600 thousand transactions on Sundays, a total year 334,200,000 transactions multiplied by 250 tenge = 83.5 billion tenge.

Reference info:

There are 20 bus operators working currently in Almaty in 2021, serving 150 city bus routes. Total bus fleet of the city including reserves is 2,441 buses, where 1,715 are diesel buses, 515 CNG buses, 196 trolleybuses and 15 electric buses. There are 40 routes under operation, of 392 buses separately from Almaty city in the suburban area. However, only 70-80% of the full fleet is actively on the route under operation, or about 2,000 active buses during peak hours in the city and suburbs together.

Available budget of Almaty City for 2021 foreseen «passenger transportation subsidies» of 38.5 billion tenge, and «social support of schoolchildren and pensioners» in amount of 5 billion tenge. Earnings collection from passenger ticketing is about 20 billion tenge a year. Unrecorded turnover of not paid free travel is estimated at 30% from the total.


Ticketing fare in Almaty of 80 tenge historically has not been indexed on inflation and was not increased since 2012! Almaty uses a «hybrid model» of public transport payment system, only quarter of the volume is collected from passenger ticketing, half is subsidized from the city budget and another quarter is uncontrolled cash, or ticketless travel.

Expert society recommend the implementation of free fare public transport not in full, but partially for (1) certain social groups, (2) on dedicated special routes and (3) at certain periods of time. The knowledge of international expertise is focused on (1) the discipline of time intervals, (2) buses comfort (3) logical stops location and (4) fair salary for drivers.

Key conclusion from presented insights comes down on two scenarios: (1) full or partial free fare public transport at expense of the city budget in amount of 82 billion tenge per year, or (2) radical increase of fare payment for passengers from today's subsidized 80 tenge to the full real ticket price of 250 tenge (€0.5) in 2021.

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