Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tallinn's free public transport leads to sharp fall in city traffic

Marko Leppik / Tallinn City Tourist Office & Convention Bureau
'Cities Today' journal - connecting the world's urban leaders.
Within six months of initiating free public transport, the city of Tallinn in Estonia has seen a fall of 15 percent in traffic, including 7,600 fewer cars entering the city, and an increase of 14 percent in public transport use.

Following a referendum, Tallinn launched its new system in January this year and it is the largest city in the world to implement free public transport for its residents, following the lead of Hasselt, Belgium, which introduced such a scheme in 1997.

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

Operating the free system costs Tallinn €12 million annually yet the city calculates that the loss in ticket revenue is almost compensated by attracting new residents and thereby increasing the personal income tax revenue the city receives. Within the last year, the city has increased its population by 9,000, something the government equates to almost €9 million in extra tax revenue. The shortfall adds an increase to the city budget of 2.5 percent.

Although residents of Tallinn (pop 425,000) have to purchase a green card for €2 to entitle them to use the free transport, this is not extended to non-residents who still need to load money onto their green card and pay for tickets.

In preparation for an increased demand for public transport, the city purchased 70 new buses and 15 new trams and developed real-time information system for passengers with common ticketing facilities. Some measures were also implemented to discourage the use of private cars, including restricting street access and increasing parking fees.

Chengdu in China is in contact with Tallinn and is now trialling the concept of free bus transport to increase the efficient movement of its 14 million inhabitants.

Tallinn’s residents are happy with the system, with over half the population taking advantage of free transport and giving it a 75 percent approval rating. The Estonian capital city is seeking to become European Green Capital in 2018 given its efforts in improving its environmental credentials and the lifestyle of its residents.

For further stories of European initiatives to lower carbon emissions in cities, visit the Covenant of Mayors website.

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