26 November 2013

Anyone living in a large, bustling city will have experienced the manic crush of rush hour and the overwhelming congestion it can bring to a city’s roads. Attempts to reduce gridlock have included everything from congestion charges, such as in London, to public bike schemes, as seen in Buenos Aires, Paris and Hangzhou, China.

This January, Tallinn, Estonia, took a radical step in its efforts to reduce traffic jams, and became the first capital in the European Union to offer its residents free public transport. To travel free of charge, users are required to be registered as residents of Tallinn and pay a modest 3 euros ($4) to obtain a travel card. Last month Tallinn extended the scheme to its commuter trains.

While the initiative will cost the city around 12 million euros a year in lost fares, authorities in Tallinn argue that free transport offers several key benefits.

“We win more than lose,” Edgar Savisaar, Mayor of Tallinn, said in May. “First of all, citizens have more mobility options in town. Secondly, there are environmental benefits, as air quality is getting better. Thirdly, there are major improvements in the traffic flow.”

What could free public transport offer to other cities around the world? “You would make some direct operational savings by removing the complexity of the ticketing system, where you have cash payments that slow buses down,” Peter White, Professor of Public Transport Systems at the University of Westminster, told

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