On 1 July 2018, Estonia will create the largest 24/7 free public transit zone in the world, for residents and visitors alike. The zone covers the country’s entire territory, making it possible to travel the country's whole network for free.
The only exception is the capital city, Tallinn, where public transport is only free to local residents - and has been since 2013.
Public transport has a wide range of environmental, social and economic benefits, as listed by National Express. Communities benefit from financial savings and increased mobility, with impacts on access to work and investment in business. Air quality improves, and congestion decreases. Fuel efficiency increases per passenger mile, saving energy. It also frees up passenger time, as riders can study, read or work on the go. There are safety benefits, as public transport is maintained more regularly than private vehicles. Transit centres have also been linked to lower crime rates. Finally, taking public transport encourages walking and cycling to final destinations, with health benefits.
With so much for an economy to gain, the benefits of making public transport free could well outweigh the loss of earnings through profit and tax.
Will we see other countries follow this lead?