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Freeing Public Transit in Estonia

Estonia is going to be one of the first countries that offer free public transit in the world. Already in 2013, Estonia started to offer free public transit for local residents in its capital Tallinn. After the 1st of July, people in Estonia, perhaps even including visitors, are going to enjoy the biggest free public transit zone so far across the country [1].

This plan sounds ambitious to many, and several municipalities in Europe have had similar thoughts regarding abolishing public transport fares, for example, Paris and Wales. One of the facilitators for this breakthrough is the already strongly subsidized public transit. The rural bus lines, for example, have already been subsidized up to 80 percent. The action to free all the public transit would add a fairly small amount comparing to what the taxpayers already pay for the ticketing system.

Besides, free public transit could strategically ease the transition for a bigger plan by Estonia: downscaling the number of municipalities. Last year, Estonia decided to decrease the number of municipalities from 220 to 79, meaning that the geographical distances between and within municipalities are going to increase significantly. Free public transit could mitigate the friction in this reform process. Besides, the fee for Tallinn’s public transit does not lift the eye brows of most tourists today, and taking away the fares is a step toward stimulating Estonia’s tourism industry.


Personal Comments

Estonia’s free public transit is definitely ground-breaking when we in Sweden are still paying approximately €3 per trip for taking buses and trams, which disincentives public transport to a certain degree especially for car owners. By abolishing public transit fares, Estonia makes public transit much more attractive to its users with the prerequisite of the service level staying the same. However, this might cause a sudden growth in passenger numbers compared to today, leading to higher costs than expected. Will Estonia be ready to resolve any capacity problems that may arise? How will free transport across the nation influence the transport flows in the neighbouring regions? Many interesting questions follow.


Written by Anne Faxér, RISE Viktoria.


1. 2018-05-17. Estonia Will Roll Our Free Public Transit Nationwide