The Way to Go

The Estonian city Tallinn is way ahead of the rest of the world: in 2013 it will be the first capital city with free public transport.

Free transport is a nice way of encouraging people to leave their cars at home – or even better, don’t buy a car.

City-governer Edgar Savisaar believes that this solution will help reduce the growing number of cars, pollution and accidents in the city. It was, however, not his decision. Rather did the whole city of Tallinn decide to go green. In a referendum held last week 75% of the voters agreed on the new solution.

Across Europe this has created a conversation on the pros and cons of free transport. The critiques fear that the costs cannot be met by the local governments and that it could possibly not boost the use of public transport as much as expected. Others, however, fear contrarily that it might have an impact on the car industry. As far as the budget concern goes, there are definitely alternative solutions. “This includes earmarking certain areas where entry of personal vehicles is by a fee and levy of a green tax.”, the Hindu writes and explains that in return you get: “various benefits for the residents such as better air quality, lesser congestion and reduction in fuel consumption, a significant shift to public transit, fewer traffic accidents and increased access to work places for the poor.”

Finally, the article adds another important point: “Subsidising public transport is fair, experts say, because personalised transport already receives hidden subsidies through investment on flyovers and broader roads, and free parking.”

Cities which offer some free transport include Sydney, Sheffield (UK), Hasselt (Belgium) and many small cities in France and Sweden. Find the full list here. is advocating that we finally include transport in our climate debate. “We are standing at a crossroad: in order to reduce our oil dependency and to make our cities climate smart, we have to change our ways of getting around. It is a fact that the future is on track, and with free public transport everyone can come along for the ride.” 


5 thoughts on “The Way to Go

  1. Most Australian cities (including our tiny city of Launceston Tasmania) offer at least a bus that does the “City Route” for free. Perth in Western Australia has 3 of them that regularly take people to the medical parts of town, the historical (and arty) parts of town and a shopping route. They run every 5 minutes and are well used. Perth was also used to trial Hydrogen fueled buses. I know that public transport for free is most probably a viable option for small countries but somewhere like Australia would go broke funding free transport. I think that heavily subsidised public transport is the go. Perhaps some sort of financial or taxation discount could apply to people who used public transport predominately? There are many ways of making it more attractive to people but our local public transport is deplorable! The bus to Beauty Point runs every 2 hours, if you are entitled to get a discount fare it is 20c off the regular fare (hardly “cheap transport”) and the services run either side of accuracy. Perhaps we need to get Governments looking seriously at the public transport issues to effect a degree of “cure” for what is currently ailing us.

    • In Switzerland we have quite an amazing public transport system – meaning you can count on it and it takes you pretty much anywhere in short time – but the government is still planning on making it more expensive (and it’s far from cheap right now). However, I feel swiss people have always had this liking of travelling in trains…mabye we also have to appeal to that… I guess people always think: “what’s in it for me?” … if it’s not free or cheap, let’s make it attractive and convenient?!

    • The problem with transport in Australia is that the states individually have control over their states transport systems. As a result, there is nothing that is standardised in this country regarding transport. The rail is on different guages, transport systems comprise of different modes (trams, no trams, monorails, ect). There is no national travel voucher available, and even the matters of pricing vary widely amongst the states.

      First thing that needs to happen is to standardise (someone say centralise?) the management of the transport systems. THEN we are at least one step in the right direction.

      Great news for them though. Should be more of it.

  2. Congratulations to the voters of Tallinn! Free public transportation (well, tax-supported public transportation) is a progressive solution that suits the current needs of many but not most. This is highly likely to change soon as the availability of our finite oil resources decline and the price per liter increases. This will push up the costs of almost everything for consumers, who will then have to look for ways to save money. Making fewer automobile trips will be a natural solution, and many more people will be thankful then that taxes are supporting public transportation.

    As this situation compounds, local authorities may expand scheduling and routes in response to increased demand. As you point out, for many years the tax structures of many countries have supported the automobile industry. But when oil becomes more expensive, we cannot make tires (7 gallons of oil in every tire), we cannot make the many plastic parts, we cannot fuel production, we cannot fuel shipping, and we cannot fuel the vehicle. Within several decades we will see many fewer automobiles on our roads, and perhaps more electric buses and electric trains. Support free public transportation.

    • Good point! Of course we always have our bikes which also have to be produced but have usually a longer life-span if you invest in a good lock 😉

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