Do Free Rides In Tallinn Mean Fewer Drivers?
|January 29, 2014||Posted by Staff under Environmental|
This 2014 excerpt of Cityscope, Jan 27, is by Sulev Vedler.
Last January, Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia of 430,000 people, made all public transit in the city free for residents.
One year later, Mayor Savisaar says traffic on the biggest crossroads had decreased by 14 percent compared to a week shortly before the policy started.
But researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden found that traffic speeds in Tallinn had not changed and if any modal shift is happening, it’s that some people are walking less and riding transit more.
Free transit is less effective than increasing the price of parking, gasoline, or using the roads.
Tallinn isn’t the first city to experiment with free transit. Across Europe, a number of smaller towns have done it, dating back to the late 1990s. Templin, Germany was one. In France, there was the city of Châteauroux and Aubagne and some surrounding municipalities. Ridership in all of those places increased substantially when fares went away.
What sets Tallinn’s experiment apart is its size and Tallinn’s status as a European capital. As the birthplace of Skype and online voting, Tallinn also has a reputation for innovation. So there’s a feeling, at least among advocates of the idea, that if free transit can work here, maybe it can work in other large cities.
In Tallinn the system was highly subsidized to begin with. That’s not the case in London, for example, where fares account for 85 percent of public transport revenues. Free fares there would leave a gaping budget hole. It is easier to waiver the ticket revenue if there’s already a large subsidy. The subsidy part used to be 70 percent in Tallinn. Now it’s 96 percent.
Ed. Notes: Free rides and free anything sound good but is there no free lunch? Possibly. One of the best and biggest transit systems in the world has no trouble funding itself without any subsidy: Hong Kong’s. That system funds itself from the steep land values around its transit stops. It’s a method any city could use, argued big-name economists William Vickrey and Joe Stiglitz, who dubbed his proof the “Henry George Theorem”. Any public works project could pay for itself from the resultant rise in nearby site values as long as it’s not a white elephant and truly desired by the public.