Free public transport in Estonia: sobering

Four years ago, Estonia's government introduced free public transport in certain regions of the country, making good on one of ex-prime minister and Centre Party leader Jüri Ratas' election campaign pledges. However, a recent government survey has shown that the measure has neither increased the number of public transport users nor reduced the number of private transport users. The pandemic has further reduced demand. Has the experiment failed?

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Eesti Päevaleht (EE) /

Too costly, very little demand

There's no getting around the fact that free public transport is a failure, Eesti Päevaleht sighs:

“All those who used to drive downtown are still doing it now. Those who used public transport in the past continue to do so, perhaps a little more often. This is what the experts warned us would happen. ... In three years it hasn't even been possible to coordinate the timetables of buses and trains, let alone anything more innovative. Bus routes that cost more than 100 euros per user - yes, they exist - should be replaced with taxis or rideshare services - this is common sense. ... Better to support village taxi services than let empty buses continue to run.”

Eesti Rahvusringhääling (ERR Online) (EE) /

Not just about the price

If we want more people to use public transport in rural areas it needs to be more flexible, writes mobility expert Merlin Rehema from the Stockholm Environment Institute in ERR Online:

“In addition to regular bus routes, it's worth thinking about setting up transport services that can be ordered on an individual basis for sparsely populated areas. The whole public transport model needs to be renewed and adapted to where people live, their mobility needs and their expectations. Demand-responsive transport does just that: it takes account of travellers' needs and offers flexible solutions. Just as Bolt or Uber transport people on demand in big cities, it makes it possible for people to order public vehicles to pick them up at the desired place and time. Even in sparsely populated rural areas.”