Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tallinn free public transport case study: After one year "results so far have been encouraging"

On 1 January 2013, Tallinn, Estonia became the first European capital to extend free public transport to all of its residents.

The introduction of free public transport in Tallinn follows on from a number of schemes in other countries, usually in smaller towns.

For Tallinn, the motivation was a careful consideration of the budgetary implications, balanced against social, environmental and fiscal benefits. Allan Alaküla, head of the Tallinn EU Office, says that the city's annual public transport budget was €53 million, but ticket revenues amounted to only €17 million, €5 million of which was contributed by non-city residents.

By introducing free transport for Tallinners, the city thus stood to incur an additional cost of €12 million. This was judged to be a reasonable price to pay when considered against the benefits of the scheme.

The results so far have been encouraging. The Tallinn authorities believe that, if done right, free public transport schemes can encourage a shift from cars to buses and trams, can cut congestion and traffic emissions, and can boost economic development. "We really provide an incentive for stimulation of the local economy. We observed already that people tend to spend more if their mobility is free. They go out more in the evenings and weekends,” according to Alaküla.

With regard to more strictly environmental aspects, it is too early to fully quantify the environmental benefits, but during the first quarter of 2013, traffic congestion in the center of Tallinn was down 15% compared to the end of 2012. Since the start of the scheme, public transport use has increased by 12.6%, car use throughout the Tallinn area has been reduced by 9%, and there have also been slight declines in walking and cycling, indicating that people will use free public transport whereas previously they might have been deterred by ticket prices. The expected reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is 45,000 tons annually, with additional benefits in terms of noise abatement.

There have also been fiscal benefits. Alaküla says that since it became known that free public transport would be introduced, about 10,000 people have registered as Tallinn residents. There are estimated to be an additional 30,000 unregistered residents in the city. The free transport scheme could encourage registration. Every additional 1000 residents bring the city about €1 million in additional annual tax revenues, Alaküla says.

Tallinn is also looking outside Europe. It has established contacts with the Chinese city of Chengdu (14 million inhabitants), which is experimenting with free public transport, combined with limitations on driving in the city center. The two cities have established a dialogue on the issue, and representatives from Chengdu were present at a "Capital of free public transport” summer school that Tallinn hosted on 22-24 August 2013. Among the speakers was EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas.

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TIDE (Transport Innovation Deployment for Europe) is funded by the European Commission to promote innovative urban transport and mobility measures throughout Europe. (Editor)

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