Beginning New Year’s Day, Tallinn will provide its residents with free public transport, reportedly becoming the first capital city to do so.
Although turnout was low, 75 percent of respondents supported a March referendum granting free rides to registered residents, school-age children, and adults traveling with babies on the city’s public transportation network. Other visitors to the Estonian capital will still need to pay between 1.10 euros and 1.60 euros (($1.45-$2.10) per journey.
In addition to the social benefits for low-income people, city officials hope the initiative will make a big environmental impact by significantly reducing emissions from private cars.
When Tallinn experimented with a week of free transport in September, there were noticeably fewer cars on the road and a 5 percent increase in public transport users, Deputy Mayor Taavi Aas said. That number could eventually rise to 15 percent of the population switching over to city buses and trams.
To make up for 12 million euros ($15.9 million) in lost ticket sales, the city intends to generate tax revenue by registering more of the estimated 5 percent to 10 percent of unregistered city residents, Aas said. This will be supplemented by funds previously used for a now-completed water and sewage renovation project.
Tallinn will also introduce plastic smartcard and e-ticket technology on 1 January and will add more buses and trams to accommodate the extra passengers.
Several cities in Europe and the United States already offer a zero-fare system, but Tallinn will reportedly be the largest city in the world to provide such a service.
Even though neighboring Helsinki, Riga, and Vilnius are considering adopting a free-transport model if Tallinn’s proves successful, it seems unlikely that larger European capitals will follow suit. Experts point out that one of London’s Underground lines “alone carries more people in a day than Tallinn’s entire population of 416,000.”
Tallinn to ring in the New Year with year-round free public transport