The Tallinn experiment: what happens when a city stimulates public transport free?
Since Estonias capital started free public transport for residents in 2013, it claims to have turned a 20 m a year earning each year. But has the strategy achieved its aspirations of reducing traffic and saving people money?
In London a monthly travel card for the whole city costs almost 200. InCopenhagen, a city a fraction of the sizing, youll pay 160. So when you ask the residents of Tallinn about the benefits of free travelling across the city, its a surprise to be met with a roll of the eyes or a sarcastic smile.
The capital of Estonia introduced free modes of public transport at the beginning of 2013 after their populist mayor Edgar Savisaar called a referendum on the decision, dismissed by critics at the time as a political stunt that the city couldnt afford.
Three years on Savisaar has been suspended amid allegations of corruption, but the city remains committed to the programme claiming that instead of it expensing them fund, they are turning a profit of 20m a year.
To enjoy Tallinns buses, trams, trolley buses and trains for free you must be registered as nearby residents, which means that local municipalities gets a 1,000 share of your income taxation every year, explains Dr Oded Cats, an expert who has conducted a year long survey on the project. Residents merely need to pay 2 for a green card and then all their journeys are free.
Since the scheme launched, an additional 25,000 people have registered in the city that previously had a population of 416, 000, but this is where the tension lies. The more money for the city of Tallinn, the less there is for the places they leave behind, explains Cats, so its not hard to see why the government and the mayors office might assure things differently.
Allan Alakula, the official spokesperson for the project, admits boosting the popularity of the mayors officewas one of the key motivations for rolling out the project but insists that it was primarily about easing the burden on peoples billfolds, and the citys roads.
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