Estonia, a country known for its advanced technological position, is now moving to make public transportation free nationwide.
Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, removed fees from public transport five years ago after a resounding “yes” vote in a public referendum. Residents would simply purchase a card allowing them to use the city’s entire transportation network, while visitors would continue to pay for their use.
The revamped service has been implemented nationwide and is funded by the national budget. However, counties are permitted to opt out of the program, and in fact, many have not yet accepted the offer.
One motivation behind this new system is to help redistribute wealth among its citizens, though Estonia is already highly ranked in terms of economic equality. Rural Estonians tends to be less affluent than urban citizens and tend to rely more heavily on public buses despite being in more isolated areas. By enacting free public transport, poorer, rural Estonians will no longer have to bear the burden of disproportionate transportation costs.
The goal of this system, though, is not only to ease the economic burden of transportation for Estonian citizens but also to reduce traffic and air pollution caused by private vehicle usage. Some analyses claim that the free transport offered in Tallinn did not discourage people from driving, as the new users of public transport were primarily pedestrians. This, though, is not telling of how the plan will play out in suburban areas of Estonia.
If all counties take up the offer, Estonia will become the world’s first free public transportation nation. Estonia was similarly the first country in the world to pioneer a public, nationwide charging system for electric vehicles, of which there are currently 165 stations.
If this experiment is successful, many other advanced nations and cities will likely follow suit in eliminating fees for public transport.