May 17, 2018
Meet the new world leader in fare-free living.
It feels like the free public transit plans are coming like buses: You wait ages for one, then several come at once.
Yesterday, I wrote about how Paris is looking into the possibility of abolishing fares on its metros and buses, an effort that, if it went forward, would make the city and its environs the world’s largest free transit zone. But, as an alert reader pointed out, there’s an arguably bigger cost-free travel scheme in the works, and it’s far more concrete: On July 1, the entire country of Estonia will create the largest 24/7 free public transit zone in the world, one that will stretch across its entire territory. That will make it feasibly possible (if complicated) to travel by bus from one end of this 1.3 million-strong Baltic nation to the other without paying a cent.
Estonia is already a world leader in free public transit: In 2013, all public transit in its capital, Tallinn, became free to local residents (but not tourists or other visitors, even those from other parts of the country). The new national free-ride scheme with extend this model even further, making all state-run bus travel in rural municipalities free and extending cost-free transit out from the capital into other regions.
The plan will not, however, extend Tallinn’s existing free public transit policies to other Estonian cities, and it also won’t make riding Tallinn transit free to visitors (at least, not initially). So while most of the country’s land area and population—which is overwhelmingly concentrated around Tallinn—should get fare-free daily lives, it’s not precisely the case that no Estonian will ever buy a bus ticket in their own country again.