Tallinn City Council has decided that the city will hold a referendum on free public transport from March 19 to 25.
The residents of the city will be asked one question: "Do you support the introduction of free public transport on the lines operating on a common ticket system in Tallinn starting from 2013?” Deputy Mayor Taavi Aas confirmed that the city government will act based on the results of the referendum.
The city government's plan to introduce free public transport in Tallinn has provoked a lively discussion, which continued during the council meeting on Thursday.
Aas explained that partial or full ticket concessions already apply to nearly 70 percent of the rides taken on public transport and that offering free service may initially only increase the number of customers by a tenth. In addition, Aas cited the increased cost of housing, food, and other necessities as further social impetus for offering free public transport and stressed the environmental benefits of the proposed plan.
Mayor Edgar Savisaar has maintained that free public transport would reduce the number of car rides, traffic congestions, and accidents and ease the strain on the streets, and most importantly, it would increase the mobility of the families who find it difficult to make ends meet.
Former mayor Hardo Aasmäe called the proposal rational and innovative. "Free public transport is a thing of the future,“ claimed Aasmäe. "We should look at it from a broader perspective than just Tallinn. This is an excellent chance for Estonia to attract attention by being innovative. The state already pays approximately half of the ticket fare on regional public transport lines. Public transport should be free in all the Estonian towns and counties and it should be financed by a national transportation tax.“
Ticket fare currently makes up less than 40 percent of the money spent on maintaining the public transport system, which means that Tallinn would have to find approximately 20 million euros of additional financing to start offering free public transport. The city is hoping to raise the money by merging its various transport companies and dipping into the funds that had previously been earmarked for the construction of the city's sewerage and plumbing systems.