Estonia started providing free public transportation for local residents in 2013 in the capital city, Tallinn, but now CityLab has reported that the nation has set its sights even higher: it plans to offer free state-run bus travel around the country starting on July 1. According to HuffPost, this move will be the biggest national free public transportation plan in the entire world.
The plan doesn’t mean Estonians won’t ever have to buy bus tickets again, but rather that state-run bus travel in rural municipalities will be free. Citizens will also have to pay for train travel, but tickets for the state-owned rail network will be less expensive thanks to enhanced subsidies. Tallinn’s free public transit policies — there city residents can ride buses, trains, trolleys, and trams fare-free — will not extend to other cities, and the offer will only be good for Estonians, not tourists. The Estonian government will devote around $15 million in taxpayer money to the bus system.
The move could offer democratization of mobility for people in Estonia. Tallinn European Union office head Allan Alaküla told HuffPost that free public transportation enables low-income groups “to look for and take jobs in a wider area than they would be able to access by walking.”
Delft University of Technology assistant professor of transport and planning Oded Cats studied Tallinn’s fareless plan in its first year. His study uncovered mixed evidence of free trips helping low-income locals. Those people did become more mobile, but the study didn’t find an indication job opportunities improved. The study uncovered a 14 percent increase in public transit use and a 10 percent drop in car trips, although the average distance traveled in a car went up. The study discovered the increase in public transportation use was mainly due to extra trips from people who were already riding the system or people who walked in the past.
Alaküla told HuffPost, “We hope it gives people a reason to use their car less, or not use their car at all on working days. In Tallinn we have taken several measures to reduce car usage along with free public transport — special bus lanes, more bike racks to encourage cycling, and we have also raised on-street parking fees and reduced parking places.”
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