Lessons From the Free Public Transport Capital of the World

How making public transportation cost-free has—and hasn't—benefited Estonia's capital city.
October 31, 2016, 7am PDT | Elana Eden
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In 2013, a referendum in Tallinn—the capital of Estonia—made public transportation free for residents in 2013. Now, The Guardian revisits the city to see the benefits of the program, and where it has failed to make an impact.

Perhaps surprisingly, the free transit policy has generated the city €20m in revenues annually. That’s evidently because it has encouraged thousands of people to register as residents, allowing the city to capture some of their income tax.

The policy has enjoyed a 90-percent approval rating among residents. The Guardian reports that vehicles are clean and not overcrowded, and that there seems to be a culture of ridership and accommodation for non-drivers.

But there’s "mixed evidence" about whether making transit free has improved mobility or employment opportunities for low-income residents.

It’s also not clear that it has achieved climate benefits: While more people are choosing transit over car travel, "the average length of a car journey had gone up by 31%, which meant there were more, not fewer, cars on the road." Promoting cycling and imposing fees or taxes around driving might do more to reduce driving, researchers suggested.

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Published on Tuesday, October 11, 2016 in The Guardian
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