Op-Ed: Is Tallinn’s “free public transport” initiative doing its job?

tallinn free pubic transport 2celsius.netAs previously documented on World Streets the city of Tallinn, Estonia implemented Free Fare Public Transportation (FFPT) in January of 2013 for all registered citizens of the city. A year and a half into this policy voices from politicians, the media and academia presented an array of opinions in favour of, and refuting benefits of the policy. Thus in May of 2014 I visited Tallinn to conduct interviews with City staff, independent environmentalist consultants and academics alike for my master’s thesis in Urban and Regional Planning Studies at the London School of Economics. My research question was ‘Is Tallinn, Estonia’s free fare public transportation policy meeting its claimed motives as stated by the city’s municipal leaders?

– By Reiner Kravis. Master’s candidate in Urban Planning Studies, London School of Economics

This question was asked to allow for space and analysis of the claims made by those who implemented the policy, and those less heard opinions, voicing counterclaims of supposed benefits the policy has created in the realms of modal shift, congestion, increased public spending and more. Tallinn City officials from the Mayor to other notable personalities have shown a list of eleven supposed justifications/benefits of the policy at various conferences. Thus these eleven justifications were analysed in my work

The eleven stated policy motivations  

Following FFPT’s implementation on January 1, 2013, city officials such as the Mayor and Deputy Mayor have stated and presented eleven motivations for the implementation of the scheme at conferences and public seminars under the title “Why did we do it?”(Aas, 2013; Savisaar, 2013) (Appendix 8.1). The motives, or aspects as they are labelled in the politician’s presentations, fit into four categories:

Social aspects

  • Guaranteeing mobility for unemployed and low income residents
  • Using (Public Transit) facilities sharing common space for different segments of society

Economic aspects

  • Increasing labour mobility in the city limits
  • Stimulating consumer activity
  • Savings from public transport are spent on local goods and services

Green aspects

  • Modal shift from cars to (Public Transit)
  • Cleaner air
  • Less noise
  • More urban space

Fiscal aspects

  • Strong motivation to register place of residence
  • Increases personal income tax (for city coffers)

On the surface this is a policy with altruistic motivations and the public in mind. While this is to some extent true, it has been shown through the ideas of public choice theory and fieldwork interviews that FFPT in Tallinn was primarily a political maneuver. The implementation of the policy 10 months before municipal elections was no coincidence. It was wrapped up nicely for the public to choose and has played into the city’s image building and international promotion. Meanwhile, alternative solutions have been largely ignored that are much more cost effective and already occurring.”

free public transport standing bus

From the Report Conclusions

After analysing the literature of FFPT it can be said that the claimed technical justifications of this policy over a year and a half after its inception do not add up.

Thus one must ask why enact this policy in the first place? The answer lies in unstated political motivations. On the surface this is a policy with altruistic motivations and the public in mind. While this is to some extent true, it has been shown through the ideas of public choice theory and fieldwork interviews that FFPT in Tallinn was primarily done for the benefit of Edgar Savisaar’s political party and career. The implementation of the policy 10 months before municipal elections was no coincidence. It was wrapped up nicely for the public to choose and has played into the city’s image building and international promotion. Meanwhile, alternative solutions have been largely ignored that are much more cost effective and already occurring. Thus FFPT in Tallinn has not met the majority of its claimed motivations as these largely were not the real motivations for the policy in the first place.

As with many topics and questions in academia there is often not a yes/no answer, but rather a conclusion that lies somewhere in-between. This was the case in my research that found that the policy has indeed met some justifications such as enhancing mobility for all Tallinners. But overall the policy has failed in other areas where previous examples of FFPT and academic reports, discussed in further detail in my thesis, had proven that the policy would not work. Thus why did the City implement this policy in the first place? A large consideration were municipal elections in October 2013, as well as city image and marketing, after all if not for the municipalities attempt at FFPT we would not be talking about the policy right now.

 

 – – – > For the full report:  https://worldstreets.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/ffpt-in-tallinn-reiner-kravis.docx

About the author:

Reiner Kravis is a master’s candidate in Regional and Urban Planning Studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. If you have any comments of questions feel free to contact me. I can be reached at R.Kravis@lse.ac.uk

# # #

 

But don’t stop there

Most consulted World Streets articles on ZFPT since 2009 (And not over yet!):

* No FTP without SCR  (Systematic Car Reductions)

* To support Tallinn FTP project, W/S readers comment on FPT

* Free Public Transport! (But hey, are we talking about the same thing?)

* What is the right price for Free Public Transport?

* Free-for-all: Organizations supporting free public transport

* All W/S coverage of “Free” “Public Transport”

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Trained as a development economist, Eric Britton is a public entrepreneur specializing in the field of sustainability and social justice. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets, his latest work focuses on the subject of equity, economy and efficiency in city transport and public space, and helping governments to ask the right questions and in the process, find practical solutions to urgent climate, mobility, life quality and job creation issues. Currently working on an open collaborative project, “BETTER CHOICES: Bringing Sustainable Transportation to Smaller Asian Cities” . More at: http://wp.me/PsKUY-2p7

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3 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Is Tallinn’s “free public transport” initiative doing its job?

  1. From Marie Launay

    OK, but if at least politicians who want to be elected would be doing good things, it would be worth. I think this is normal / logical that a municipality try to exploit the risky choice they made, indeed the media don’t miss the occasion to show what bad things were done and politicians are depending on then vote (which is good fundamentally, but not so practical to do great things that change deeply the way we live). So, I think it’s good to wonder what alternative solutions could be put in place, I agree, but I wouldn’t use as a first argument the doubt about the electoral exploitation.

    With all my respectful, professional, philosophical, political, academic regards

    Marie LAUNAY, director of Euro Project Consult, Nantes

    Reply
  2. That’s a very good point Marie..

    Positive always sells better than negative. But it is also good to hear the truth, and based on what I know the author is right on target. He is after all a young political scientist and he has decided to look truthfully at the politics of this project. And from my rather long experience with Estonians over the years, they can deal with hard truth better than most.. (And that is why I appreciate them.)

    Reply
  3. In my experience as a public transport user in middle-size cities (Florence and Bologna, in Italy) and in my professional experience in this field, I believe with some certainty that the use of local public transport, at least in the Italian cities, is not affected by prices (which are still quite low, while considering the crisis period), but by the efficiency of the whole system.

    Speaking of Italy, a free public transport, in my opinion, would not have many more users than today. So as a service with the most modern vehicles (who remains, however, one of the points of improvement to be achieved).

    The ways to greatly enhance the attractiveness of public transport, and consequently the circulation in the city for everyone, it is, paradoxically, at cost (almost) zero. The solution lies in increasing the frequency and average speeds of the vehicles, targets that can be achieved with strong networks of priority lanes and with traffic light priority systems. But this requires a long-term vision by city administrators, which hardly embark on such initiatives, both for widespread “incompetence” and for electoral calculation (priority public transport lanes displease citizens who move by car, people doing a lot of “noise “in terms of protests).

    Yet, taking inspiration from my user experiences, I see that cities that have adopted this approach (such as Bologna) have proven vastly more competent and forward-looking than cities in which this approach has been totally ignored (such as Florence).

    The solutions are there and available. It’s enough to study the issues very carefully, and solve them using the best expertise in circulation (or at least following the best practices).

    Reply

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