The Tallinn experiment: what happens when a city makes public transport free?

Status
Not open for further replies.

AlterEgo

Veteran Member
Joined
30 Dec 2008
Messages
13,565
Location
No longer here
Hoping to stimulate some debate about how the findings might apply to British cities:

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/...periment-estonia-public-transport-free-cities

Since Estonia’s capital started providing free public transport for residents in 2013, it claims to have turned a €20m a year profit each year. But has the scheme achieved its ambitions of reducing traffic and saving people money?

In London a monthly travel card for the whole city costs almost £200. In Copenhagen, a city a fraction of the size, you’ll pay £160. A pass lasting only five days in Paris will cost you over £60. So when you ask the residents of Tallinn about the benefits of free travel across the city, it’s a surprise to be met with a roll of the eyes or a sarcastic smile.

The capital of Estonia introduced free public transport at the beginning of 2013 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.

Three years on Savisaar has been suspended amid allegations of corruption, but the city remains committed to the programme – claiming that instead of it costing them money, they are turning a profit of €20m a year.

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”.

Allan Alakula, the official spokesperson for the project, admits boosting the popularity of the mayor’s office was one of the key motivations for rolling out the project – but insists that it was primarily about easing the burden on people’s wallets, and the city’s roads.

The project took a year from inception to reality in which time Alakula and his team struggled to find cities to learn from. The city of Hasselt in Belgium had free transport for 16 years but they had to reintroduce fares when it became financially unsustainable. It is also free in the town of Aubagne near Marseille in France, but neither were on the scale of Tallinn’s ambitions.

Three years later the project has been inundated with requests – from the Chinese city of Chengdu, home to 14 million and desperate to ease traffic congestion, to Romania’s capital Bucharest. “We would be happy to hand over the title of the free public transport capital of the world,” Alakula laughs.

Tallinn is not a crowded or a big city, most journeys don’t take longer than 15 minutes, and transport feels like it’s part of the city’s furniture rather than something to be braved.

Drivers wait patiently as passengers cross their path to board a tram near Vabadus square in the centre of the city. It is nearing rush hour but everyone who needs a seat gets one. The trams and trains are clean and Tallinners have been enthusiastic about using them for free, with early polls delivering a 90% approval rating for the scheme.

Dr Cats, who is based at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, found that the number of people in Tallinn using public transport instead of cars was up by 8%, but at the same time the average length of a car journey had gone up by 31%, which he said meant there were more, not fewer, cars on the road in the time they tested.

He puts the increase down to a change in “shopping and leisure habits” rather than limitations of the scheme itself, and suggests that making driving more expensive, through parking fees and other taxes, could be more effective at cutting back on traffic.

So could cycling, which Alakula admits the city hasn’t done enough to promote: “less than 1% of people make their journey by bike, which basically means that cycle commuting doesn’t exist,” he says.

Cats also found “mixed evidence” whether the scheme has “improved mobility and accessibility of low-income and unemployed residents … [and] no indication that employment opportunities improved as a result of this policy”.

According to Cats, free public transport is not the no-brainer everyone might initially think it to be. “The idea still faces political opposition and visitors who use public transport are less satisfied with having to pay more for it than locals.” But in the case of Tallinn it is almost exclusively used by residents, not tourists – who rely on private buses, taxis and most recently Uber.

There is also a risk, says Cats, that free public transport could lead to less investment in the service. “In the event of an economic depression, investment in public transport will be more exposed to potential budget cuts if they are not earmarked,” he says.

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 Alakula has seen suggest that only 3,000 to 4,000 have registered in 2016 so far.

But Alakula is positive about its longevity and says they have also been able to funnel money back to improve their networks. “We are also in the process of building a tramline in to the airport that will get you there in 15 minutes.”
 
Sponsor Post - registered members do not see these adverts; click here to register, or click here to log in
R

RailUK Forums

neilmc

Member
Joined
23 Oct 2011
Messages
907
I must be the odd-tourist-out then, using the trams, buses and trolleybuses to make my way around when I last visited! I personally don't think it'll make a huge difference, since Tallinn is quite small for a capital city and probably not the kind of place where people will joyride all day on free public transport just because they can.
 

misterredmist

Member
Joined
23 Feb 2015
Messages
285
Location
Bedfordshire
The findings in Tallinn didn't appear conclusive enough for judging an experiment elsewhere, though I get the impression a bite on their bum may be coming soon.

I suppose they save on Revenue Protection :o
 

HSTEd

Veteran Member
Joined
14 Jul 2011
Messages
13,571
Given the very low farebox recovery on bus routes in the UK - once you exclude free travel passes - I do wonder how much it would cost to abolish fares entirely.

After all it would eliminate all the costs associated with the cash distribution, counting of cash and ticket issuance. You would also speed up bus journeys as no fares means you could use multiple-boarding point busses with little issue. Speeding up bus journeys would tend to improve vehicle utilisation and reduce the number of vehicles that are required to run a service.

It is an interesting idea that could really do with extra study.
 
Last edited:

Clip

On Moderation
Joined
28 Jun 2010
Messages
10,615
Which city would you try it in though? Already our major cities are choc full during peak time so offering free travel will need major upgrades and extra rolling stock and theres the thick of of over a billion easily and where does that money come from?
 

bradford758

Member
Joined
26 May 2016
Messages
226
Not free, but Sheffield had a cheap bus and rail policy early 1980s, financed by the "rates".
The policy was later declared illegal, fares increased and traffic on the roads increased.

Sent from my 4009X using Tapatalk
 
Joined
6 Oct 2016
Messages
258
Not free, but Sheffield had a cheap bus and rail policy early 1980s, financed by the "rates".
The policy was later declared illegal, fares increased and traffic on the roads increased.

Sent from my 4009X using Tapatalk

Indeed it did. West Yorkshire wasn't far behind either. What's more it worked well.
 

70014IronDuke

Established Member
Joined
13 Jun 2015
Messages
2,947
I sent this story to a Tallinner friend of mine - a professional man, who had this to say in response today.

a) Free? - Nothing is free in the world - instead of collecting the ticket prices/fees and then subsidising the balance, the city subsidises 100%. Money for that comes from the taxpayers' wallets. "free" is a good argument to sell for foreigners and locals before municipal elections. But most people have never learned economics. The only real saving is some odd jobs in municipal police who were after those who liked to travel without paying for the ticktes. And perhaps the ticket printing and distribution costs. But the contra - argument for that is again - fewer jobs for the town-house.


b) Dutch are funny people ( this consultant from Delft) - think everybody everywhere all the time should use bikes. When they have falling leaves or 5 cm of snowfall - all railway systems collapse, Amsterdam Schipol airport is closed and traffic jams on roads take ages to sort themselves out.


This is what we have (here in Tallinn) 6-8 months a year. Except everything works. You do not want to bike when there is minus 10 outside or 5-50 cm of snow on the streets. He has not probably stayed over the winter here.

c) Lots of people live in suburbs and shuttle kids to school and themselves to work - hence the car usage. Besides over the weekends they go to the local countryside. And they need private cars as the public transport outside Tallinn is not very good ( low population density to make it profitable).

d) Tallinn is ca 20 kms from east to west and at its narrowest point 4 km from north to south. Local specifics apply when it comes to transport.

e) Otherwise really works well, so far. Perhaps in 10 years one can make better/more substantial conclusions.

f). Power in the city has been concentrated for last 7 or 8 years at least, one party has 50%+ seats in town council - politically it was easy to implement and run.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
"The project took a year from inception to reality in which time Alakula and his team struggled to find cities to learn from. The city of Hasselt in Belgium had free transport for 16 years but they had to reintroduce fares when it became financially unsustainable. It is also free in the town of Aubagne near Marseille in France, but neither were on the scale of Tallinn’s ambitions."

The town of Nova Gorica, on the border of Slovenia with Italy,also runs a free bus service, financed, i believe, by the big casinos located there (waiting for Italian gamblers). But it too, is tiny compared to Tallinn - popn of about 20,000.
 

trainophile

Established Member
Joined
28 Oct 2010
Messages
5,195
Location
Wherever I lay my hat
Perhaps they could make transport payable during the peak hours, and free during off peak times. That way they would still get some revenue, but people who could do so would time their journeys for when the transport is not too busy anyway.
 

Tim R-T-C

Established Member
Joined
23 May 2011
Messages
2,141
Given the very low farebox recovery on bus routes in the UK - once you exclude free travel passes - I do wonder how much it would cost to abolish fares entirely.

After all it would eliminate all the costs associated with the cash distribution, counting of cash and ticket issuance. You would also speed up bus journeys as no fares means you could use multiple-boarding point busses with little issue. Speeding up bus journeys would tend to improve vehicle utilisation and reduce the number of vehicles that are required to run a service.

Not really dissimilar to the London Oyster card system, only takes a second to scan-in and out and rarely requires driver interaction. No cash or manual processing required.
 

ejstubbs

Member
Joined
19 May 2016
Messages
167
Location
Scotland
Not free, but Sheffield had a cheap bus and rail policy early 1980s, financed by the "rates".
The policy was later declared illegal, fares increased and traffic on the roads increased.

I thought London would be the most well-known example of that: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fares_Fair although it didn't include rail (blocked by central government) only bus and underground - which is what enabled Bromley council to get it declared illegal (of course no-one in Bromley would ever be seen using a bus - the very idea!)
 

bradford758

Member
Joined
26 May 2016
Messages
226
London's was more high profile, fares reduced by around a third, but only lasted for a year, so I didn't use this as an example.
Sheffield fares were low for a few years, a three-mile journey costing less than a mile journey in West Yorkshire.

Sent from my 4009X using Tapatalk
 
Joined
10 Mar 2013
Messages
1,010
Given the very low farebox recovery on bus routes in the UK - once you exclude free travel passes - I do wonder how much it would cost to abolish fares entirely.

After all it would eliminate all the costs associated with the cash distribution, counting of cash and ticket issuance. You would also speed up bus journeys as no fares means you could use multiple-boarding point busses with little issue. Speeding up bus journeys would tend to improve vehicle utilisation and reduce the number of vehicles that are required to run a service.

It is an interesting idea that could really do with extra study.

or just promote the use of ITSO ( or other off vehicle) ticketing as TfL Buses does
 

HSTEd

Veteran Member
Joined
14 Jul 2011
Messages
13,571
or just promote the use of ITSO ( or other off vehicle) ticketing as TfL Buses does

ITSO is not going to be practical on a national scale any time in the near or even distant future.
And just imagine the headlines about people getting stuck miles from anywhere because their card ran out and they had no way to top it up - especially when they are photogenic.

ITSO cards still have major administration costs avoided in the no-fares scenario, and multiple entry point busses would still enable massive fare evasion.
 

Holly

Member
Joined
20 May 2011
Messages
783
The city of Chester used to provide a free bus service between the railway station and the shopping area in the city centre.

Until a private operator decide to operate the route on a paid fare basis. And the city was obliged to subsidise the operator.
The rub - it costs the city more to subsidise the not free service than it used to cost to pay the city's share of the cost of the free service.

But hey, all part of the growth of the nation's GDP!
 

yorksrob

Veteran Member
Joined
6 Aug 2009
Messages
29,818
Location
Yorks
The city of Chester used to provide a free bus service between the railway station and the shopping area in the city centre.

Until a private operator decide to operate the route on a paid fare basis. And the city was obliged to subsidise the operator.
The rub - it costs the city more to subsidise the not free service than it used to cost to pay the city's share of the cost of the free service.

But hey, all part of the growth of the nation's GDP!

Hooray for bus deregulation.
 

Robertj21a

On Moderation
Joined
22 Sep 2013
Messages
7,136
The city of Chester used to provide a free bus service between the railway station and the shopping area in the city centre.

Until a private operator decide to operate the route on a paid fare basis. And the city was obliged to subsidise the operator.
The rub - it costs the city more to subsidise the not free service than it used to cost to pay the city's share of the cost of the free service.

But hey, all part of the growth of the nation's GDP!

How was the city obliged to *subsidise* the operator ? - or do you mean that they were then required to pay the operator for the ENCTS passes ?
 

DarloRich

Veteran Member
Joined
12 Oct 2010
Messages
25,564
Location
Fenny Stratford
A very interesting social experiment but surely unworkable in a massive metropolis. How, for instance, will they meet the infrastructure costs or expand the network.

I am all for fair fares but free seems a step to far unless the operating costs covered by tax take from elsewhere.
 
Joined
10 Mar 2013
Messages
1,010
How was the city obliged to *subsidise* the operator ? - or do you mean that they were then required to pay the operator for the ENCTS passes ?

council is not allowed to subsidise a service where there is a commercial competitor , however they must pay the cvommercial compettitor on the basis of ENCTS used ... i can see how this could back fire with a town / city centre shuttle bus type service
 

HSTEd

Veteran Member
Joined
14 Jul 2011
Messages
13,571
A very interesting social experiment but surely unworkable in a massive metropolis. How, for instance, will they meet the infrastructure costs or expand the network.

I am all for fair fares but free seems a step to far unless the operating costs covered by tax take from elsewhere.

Well obvious solution is that you would allow overcrowding to control use. So you provide whatever service your financial resources allow and only people who most need to make these journeys will make them. For example people already avoid the Central Line in rush hour.

Bus services and local rail already lose so much money that farebox income is essentially irrelevant anyway.
 

Holly

Member
Joined
20 May 2011
Messages
783
council is not allowed to subsidise a service where there is a commercial competitor , however they must pay the cvommercial compettitor on the basis of ENCTS used ... i can see how this could back fire with a town / city centre shuttle bus type service
Chester City only paid a share of the free bus costs. Railway companies (company?) also paid a share.
But unquestionably in bus deregulation the loser was the general public. Both through loss of free transport and through increased tax burden. The winners are the bus companies.

But that is how privatisation is supposed to work.
 
Last edited:

Robertj21a

On Moderation
Joined
22 Sep 2013
Messages
7,136
council is not allowed to subsidise a service where there is a commercial competitor , however they must pay the cvommercial compettitor on the basis of ENCTS used ... i can see how this could back fire with a town / city centre shuttle bus type service

Quite, that was why I questioned 'subsidise'.
 

deltic

Established Member
Joined
8 Feb 2010
Messages
2,428
Research suggests free public transport does relatively little to get people to switch modes. Rather it generates additional trips on the former. The only measure shown to radically reduce car use is not surprisingly the removal of car parking spaces. Even then commuters are known to be prepared to walk long distances to still travel by car. When car parking controls were extended in Edinburgh some time ago researchers found people were parking in residential areas and walking up to 20 minutes to work.
 

LNW-GW Joint

Veteran Member
Joined
22 Feb 2011
Messages
16,027
Location
Mold, Clwyd
Chester City only paid a share of the free bus costs. Railway companies (company?) also paid a share.
But unquestionably in bus deregulation the loser was the general public. Both through loss of free transport and through increased tax burden. The winners are the bus companies.
But that is how privatisation is supposed to work.

Virgin, ATW and Merseyrail funded the free service as well as Chester Council (maybe also Network Rail).
Arriva (buses towards Wrexham/Mold every 10 minutes or so) will take you into the city for 50p I think, less than the shuttle, but you have to cross the road from the station to find them.

I've been to Tallinn and used the buses/trams.
Tourists pay €5 for a day ticket (no discounts), and they get plenty of takers from the ferries, cruise ships and airport link.
 
Last edited:

gingerheid

Established Member
Joined
2 Apr 2006
Messages
1,157
Tallinn's boundaries also fall quite sharply close to the edge of the urban area, which means that a good few people will actually live outside the area for getting free transport and then need to pay for any onward connections once they arrive in it.
 
Joined
10 Mar 2013
Messages
1,010
Chester City only paid a share of the free bus costs. Railway companies (company?) also paid a share.
But unquestionably in bus deregulation the loser was the general public. Both through loss of free transport and through increased tax burden. The winners are the bus companies.

But that is how privatisation is supposed to work.

bus deregulation ...

despite a n effective monolpoly where i live the bus service is an order of magnitude better than it was pre-deregulation , although if I were able to change one thing, i'd take on the three buses an hour off one of the routes in the middle of day ( when it;s carrying fresh air or ENCTS passengers) to enable the evening service we enjoyed in the mid -late 90s ( last buses between 11pm and midnight rather than last bus at 8 pm now but three an hour in the day on the villages route instead of 2 and hour crammed together at the top of the hour as it was immediately follwing de-reg )
 

6Gman

Established Member
Joined
1 May 2012
Messages
6,992
Chester City only paid a share of the free bus costs. Railway companies (company?) also paid a share.
But unquestionably in bus deregulation the loser was the general public. Both through loss of free transport and through increased tax burden. The winners are the bus companies.

But that is how privatisation is supposed to work.

Eh? How did deregulation lead to the "loss of free transport"? And most local authorities found costs reduced after deregulation.
 

Busaholic

Established Member
Joined
7 Jun 2014
Messages
10,526
I thought London would be the most well-known example of that: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fares_Fair although it didn't include rail (blocked by central government) only bus and underground - which is what enabled Bromley council to get it declared illegal (of course no-one in Bromley would ever be seen using a bus - the very idea!)

Bus use in the London Borough of Bromley area has always been good, as rail services within the borough, where available, have usually been of the half-hourly variety until fairly recent times. The 227 route, for instance, was the busiest single deck route in London for years, excluding a very short route in east London. It was also not too long after Fares Fair that the Roundabout minibus network based on Orpington, and virtually all within the borough, started and continues in a recognisable form today. Michael Neubert was Leader of Bromley Council and later Conservative MP for Romford. I was appalled to hear when I lived in Blackheath that his wife had been to view the house next door and made an offer. The neighbours were miffed when he vetoed it on the basis the house was in the SE13 post code area for Lewisham rather than SE3 for Blackheath! We secretly rejoiced.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.

Top