If Estonia can do it…

If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen my recent tweet about Tallinn in Estonia. It became the first capital city worldwide to offer free public transport for residents. In the first half of the year, the number of public transport (PT) passengers rose by 10 percent, while car traffic decreased by up to 15 percent. Financially, the measure appears to be paying for itself, because more people have become residents, which involves a one off payment.

Just to lay out the case for rebalancing transport use in heavily car dependent places, here’s a summary table I created a while ago:

Impact on: High car dependency More public and active transport The difference
Energy High Low or none more sustainable outcomes
Emissions High Low or none more sustainable outcomes
Land take – how much land you need for transport use High Low more efficient use of urban land
Urban design
  • Housing = “spaghetti” cul-de-sac communities
  • Centres = Shopping malls, big boxes in a sea of car parks
  • “Motordom” = ugly commercial sprawl along major roads
  • Local character often defined by heavy traffic


  • Legible, walkable and flexible, grid based communities
  • Traditional, built to the street, people focussed centres
  • Local character defined by people places and focus on public transport and the pedestrian
  • People focussed urban design outcomes
  • Increased social interaction
  • Increased flexibility for future redevelopment
Equity High household investment in transport (particularly in outer suburbs) More household investment in housing than transport improved social equity
  • More likelihood of being overweight!
  • Air quality impacts = respiratory diseases


Exercise/activity +better air quality improved community health

It makes a lot of sense to shift this balance, so the Tallinn experiment could throw up some interesting ideas. If western cities made public transport free and imposed on residents a one off charge, or maybe a smaller annual one, I wonder whether it would be acceptable to the majority of residents? I’d go for it I think!

Greg Vann
October 2013


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