Estonia moves toward free public transport

By Claus Köllinger / Updated: 04 Jun 2018


On the basis of the success of free public transport in its capital Tallinn over the last five years, Estonia plans to extend free public transport to the entire country. In Tallinn, the transport conditions changed as a result of a combination of free public transport and an increase in parking fees.

The city centre used to be filled with cars before the policy change. Now, even visitors to Tallinn can make use of the attractive offer of leaving their cars outside of the centre. Using one of the park-and-ride facilities, they can enter the city at no cost by public transport and leave their car at the car park for free as well, if the services are used on the same day. Tallinn officials noticed that people did not complain about high car parking fees, if a feasible alternative is offered to them.

Introducing free public transport was backed by a referendum five years ago and thus the City of Tallinn had a strong public mandate for this. The basic concept and how it is financed is simple: residents of Tallinn can make use of the service and only need to invest €2.00 for the public transport smart card and have their ID card at hand to show that they are Tallinn residents. For financing, the system had the effect of increasing the number of people registering as Tallinn residents, which brings the city €1,000 per person each year. Thus, Tallinn can cover the costs for the free service and still achieve a surplus.

According to Allan Alaküla, Head of the Tallinn European Union Office, the free public transport service mainly appeals to people with lower and medium incomes. But high-income population groups are also using the service to come more frequently into the city centre for visits to restaurants, bars or cinemas, which supports local businesses directly.

People elsewhere have started to demand free public transport as well. Wales is currently testing free public transport with the test meant to end May 2018, but this has been extended already by a further year. Inspired by this, Estonia would like to remove fees for public transport for rural connections and become the first free public transport nation.

That free public transport is not a silver bullet solution for all is well known in Tallinn. But the scheme is getting more popular as shown by initiatives in some cities of Poland, Germany and France and most prominently Paris, which are considering offering charge-free public transport. As noted by Mr Alaküla, municipalities need to test which measure and policy is suitable for them, including free public transport services.

Photo: courtesy of “Shutterstock”

Story first published by “ITS International” on 23rd of May 2018. See also article of “

Collective passenger transport