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Tuesday 20.03.2018 | Name days: Made, Irbe

Tallin to have free public transport

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Estonia was the first country in the world to introduce online voting and pioneered the use of free public internet. It was also the first former Soviet republic to join the eurozone. Precisely two years after that event, on January 1, 2013, Tallinn will become the largest city in the world and the first capital to provide free public transport to all of its residents.

“Families with low or medium wages and with children have really suffered during the recession… [and this] will allow more mobility, will allow the unemployed to be cohesive and will promote commerce as consumers can move around freely,” Edgar Savisaar, mayor of Tallinn, explained at a conference in October dedicated to the initiative.

Sweden’s Department of Transport Science in the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) has been commissioned to monitor and evaluate the success or otherwise of the Estonian experience, writes Beyondbrics.

“The main objectives of this policy measure are: to lead to modal shift from private car to public transport, to increase the mobility of unemployed and low income groups and to increase the municipal income tax by providing a stimulus to register as a resident of Tallinn,” KTH says.

To opponents, free public transport is a populist move aimed at shoring up Savisaar’s ebbing support among pensioners and other low-income groups, including a large number of ethnic Russians, that form the core of his power base.

Currently the largest city to provide a comparable service is Aubagne in southern France, with just a quarter of Tallinn’s 400,000 population.

The small Belgian town of Hasselt began offering free buses in 1996. “On the first day, the number of users changed from 1,000 to 8,000 – and stayed there,” says Marc Verachtert, the city’s general manager.

But in Tallinn, which has a well developed network of trams, buses and trolleybuses totalling more than 700 kilometres and free transport already available to many social groups – only 8 per cent of passengers pay full fare – a similar surge in people using the network is unlikely, deputy mayor Taavi Aas says.

“Our projection is that passenger numbers will increase by around 15 per cent in the first few months. There is certainly no danger that the network will be overloaded,” Aas believes.

Aas also points out that in many major European cities, transport is already heavily subsidised. In Tallinn, ticket revenues account for just 30 to 40 per cent of the annual transport budget, so subsidising the remainder isn’t quite as drastic a step as it first seems.


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