For years, big cities have searched for ways to reduce traffic congestion. Some urban planners believe that when given the option of free public transportation, many people will leave their cars at home. But when this was put into practice in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, the results were somewhat lackluster. In Tallinn, which began offering free transportation to city residents in January 2013, ridership rose only 1.2 percent The bottom line seems to be: Free rides entice people who would otherwise walk, but not those who would otherwise drive. And to ride on Tallinn’s buses, trams, trolleys, and trains for free, you must be registered as a resident. The municipality then gets a share of your income tax every year. Residents pay a small fee for an access card, and then all trips are free. Tourists, however, still have to pay the usual fares.
Riding off into the sunset:
- The first attempt to provide free urban public transit took place in Rome in the early 1970s. Plagued by crippling traffic congestion, the city offered residents a free bus service. However, most Romans weren’t interested, and the costly program was scrapped after just six months.
- Three similar experiments in the United States -- in Denver, Colorado, and Trenton, New Jersey, in the late 1970s, and in Austin, Texas, in the 1990s -- also fell flat. The only new riders were already walking or biking to work.
- In 2002, a study by the U.S. National Center for Transportation Research found that free ride programs sometimes attract vandalism, graffiti, and bad behavior.