Estonian capital moves to free public transport
“I live on a tight budget since I don’t have too much work right now,” said Mare Tulp, who recently registered as a Tallinn resident. “I need to save money wherever I can, so I’m very happy with the free public transport scheme. This is a good thing for the common person.”
Three months after launching the initiative, city officials are hailing the experiment as a success, though sceptics call it an expensive, populist trick prior to elections.
The free-to-ride scheme is the brainchild of mayor Edgar Savisaar, who wants to reduce congestion and pollution while alleviating expenses for the city’s poor.
Mr Savisaar has dubbed the programme the “13th monthly salary” since, he claims, families will be able to save a month’s salary now that they can get around Tallinn for free.
Deputy mayor Taavi Aas says the experiment, which will cost the city some €12 million (£10m) annually in lost ticket sales, has surpassed expectations. Passenger numbers are up 10 per cent, while the number of cars on city streets has fallen by as much as 15 per cent, according to Tallinn’s transport authority.
A recent opinion poll commissioned by the city showed that nine out of ten residents are satisfied with the project.
“People now move around the city more frequently during weekends,” Mr Aas said. “This means they also spend more money, which boosts the economy.”
The scheme is expected to boost the city’s tax revenue because the registration requirement is winning the city more residents.
According to city calculations, some 40,000 people living and working in Tallinn are registered in other cities and towns. However, more than 5,000 new Tallinn residents have been registered since 1 January , compared with 3,600 last year.
With 1,000 new residents equaling an estimated €1m in tax revenue, the current registration rate would offset the programme’s costs this year, Mr Aas said.
The initiative covers buses, streetcars and trolleybuses in Tallinn – a city of 425,000. The only catch is that one must be registered as a city resident and buy a transit pass for €2.
Once on board, you must place the pass on an electronic reader. If you do not, expect a fine of up to €40 should a ticket inspector emerge.
Installing the system was a breeze in tech-savvy Estonia, birthplace of Skype and pioneer of online voting.
Many European capitals, including London, have similar electronic fare systems, but the difference is Tallinners never have to top up the card with money.
Critics say the experiment will bankrupt Tallinn. MP Valdo Randpere, from the conservative Reform Party, said: “There are lots of other areas where the city should invest but doesn’t have the money. It all sounds nice, but it’s a lot of populism.”