As reported in The Guardian Tallinn in Estonia has been providing free public transit to its citizens since 2013, and also says it has made a 20 million euro profit.
While a monthly travel card in London costs $320 Canadian dollars a month, it is free in Tallinn on the Baltic Sea after their populist mayor Edgar Savisaar called a referendum on the decision, dismissed by critics at the time as a political stunt that the city couldn’t afford.
To enjoy Tallinn’s buses, trams, trolley buses and trains for free you must be registered as a resident, which means that the municipality gets a €1,000 share of your income tax every year, explains Dr Oded Cats, an expert who has conducted a year long study on the project. Residents only need to pay €2 for a “green card” and then all their trips are free.
Since the scheme launched, an additional 25,000 people have registered in the city that previously had a population of 416,000, but this is where the tension lies. The more money for the city of Tallinn, the less there is for the places they leave behind, explains Cats, “so it’s not hard to see why the government and the mayor’s office might see things differently”.
Tallinn also can’t rely on increasing tax revenues by attracting new residents forever. Before the scheme started, 6,000 new residents registered annually. And while the numbers shot up to about 10,000 new registrations in the immediate years after the scheme launched, early figures suggest that only 3,000 to 4,000 have registered in 2016 so far.
Tallinn is the role model for other cities trying to find how to make transit accessible to all and affordable. However there is a mixed review whether it has improved mobility and accessibility of low-income and unemployed residents … [and] no indication that employment opportunities improved as a result of this policy.