Five years ago, the Estonian capital of Tallinn introduced free public transport after residents said yes to the idea in a referendum. Residents register with a “green card”, meaning only visitors pay to use buses, trams and trains. It’s proved so popular that the government is planning to roll it out across the country. France and Germany are considering similar ideas. But should public transport be free, like schools and the health service? There’s a debate to be had here, as making it easy for people to move around is clearly good for economic activity, and it helps people on low incomes the most. However, Tallinn’s offer of free public transport hasn’t stopped people from driving. In 2014, a year into the experiment, use of public transport had increased by 14 per cent but car use had only declined by 5 per cent. More walkers hopped onto buses, as the number of trips made on foot dropped by 40 per cent. The long-term effects still need to be assessed but given the potential to tackle the social, health, economic and environmental challenges in our communities, we should not be timid in our approach. It’s estimated that in Aberdeen and Edinburgh, the worst Scottish cities for congestion, drivers are losing 28 hours a year to peak time traffic. But road expansion isn’t the answer. A year on from the opening of the £500 million M8-M73-M74 motorway project, we see journey times in the area have only reduced by 4 minutes compared to the 20 promised. Hardly value for money! Scotland could take a new direction. We’re famous for inventing the bicycle, tarmacadam road-building and the pneumatic tyre. Wouldn’t it be great if we became known as the country that cracked congestion?
The National 31st Aug 2018 read more »