On a tram smoothly pulling into the heart of Luxembourg City, Andre von der Marck gives a smile and taps the fabric of the seat next to him.

For him, the city’s trams are more than just transport. More even than the focus of his job.

They are about transforming his country and, perhaps, changing the world.

Von der Marck is the director general of Luxtram, Luxembourg’s leap into the world of modern trams.

It first started running services two years ago, and is expanding its network across the capital, Luxembourg City.

The idea is that trams are the missing piece in a complicated transport picture – the way of linking up car parks, trains and pedestrians in the heart of a congested city.

Because, uniquely, next year, Luxembourg will become the world’s only country to get rid of fares on all its forms of public transport.

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After three decades when its roads have become progressively more clogged and its commuting more miserable, Luxembourg is going to do something remarkable.

A tram travels through Luxembourg City
Image: A tram travels through Luxembourg City

Free fares, and a plan to persuade commuters to switch from cars to trams or trains.

In this, the country with Europe’s highest average income, there is an infectious curiosity to see if people, including the bankers who commute in from neighbouring countries each day, can be encouraged to leave the BMW behind and jump on a tram instead.

Von der Marck, along with many others, is excited to see what happens next.

“The fact that this is free means that everyone can use it – young or old, rich or poor,” he tells me. “Everyone can say to themselves ‘it’s better to leave the car at home’.

“We must continue to improve and extend the network. It must always be comfortable, well-connected, efficient. The key to getting people to use public transport is to make it the best option.”

Luxembourg’s traffic problems stem from its army of workers.

Work in under way to increase the number of tram lines
Image: Work in under way to increase the number of tram lines

The population of the capital city almost doubles during the working day, when more than 110,000 people travel in and out.

Lydie Polfer, the city’s mayor, says she hopes to reach the point where more than a third of people come into the city using public transport – at the moment, it’s less than one in five.

She said: “Everything is, of course, connected to this incredible development that our city has known in the past 10 or 15 years. We are today, at night-time, a city of more than 125,000 people; in the daytime – double.

“There has been an increase in the population of 30% in the past 10 years. So we need lots of instruments to address that – where we build homes, how people work, when they travel and, certainly, how they use public transport.

“It’s not practical to ban cars because some people, like the elderly, need them.

“But everyone has to be aware that he or she can do something to improve the situation.

Trams will soon be free for Luxembourgers to use
Image: Trams will soon be free for Luxembourgers to use

“There is an expression in German – you are not in the traffic jam – you are the traffic jam, and that is true. I think that making it free will be one of the big arguments for people to use public transport.”

This is a big idea for a very small country, but one that will be watched, keenly, by other cities and nations.

The Estonian capital, Tallinn, tried a similar scheme and found more people using buses but fewer people walking.

Here, though, there is a nationwide commitment, backed up by a government promise to keep spending on public transport. It is, at least, a fascinating social experiment.

Francois Bausch is the country’s deputy prime minister, in charge of transport policy. He says the free fares is an effort to create a “paradigm shift in mobility behaviour”.

He said: “We have the highest degree of people with a motor car – the same number as Qatar. We have invested a lot of money in the classic railway system and now the tram.

“You must calculate the benefit of your investment in public transport by the development of the economy.

“And for our economy, you need a very high-performance public transport system.

“We, the government, already subsidised most of the cost of it – now we will pay for it all. Because we think the country will benefit from that investment.”

I ask him whether Luxembourg could show a new path to others – whether the congested cities of the world would be watching and taking notes. Bausch nods earnestly.

“I hope so and I’m sure they will,” he said. “All the big urban areas – the big economic hubs – are looking worldwide for other solutions.

“In Luxembourg, as a small country, we have the chance to be a little bit like a lighthouse and really show that other possibilities exist, so we can find other solutions.”