Air Clean Up

  • How Many Cities Have Free Public Transport?

How Many Cities Have Free Public Transport?

Mar 17 2018 Read 1040 Times

It’s an idea that has been met with cautious optimism in theory around the globe, though not always with success in practice. As a way of encouraging citizens to use public transport rather than a single-person car, thus cutting down on emissions and energy consumption, several cities have considered introducing free public transit over the last decade or so.

However, until now the success of the safety has been largely limited to smaller town and municipalities, since the increased strain on the infrastructure and the associated financial expenditure have made it unworkable on a larger scale. Despite that, free public transport is still available in a handful of cities around the globe.


Perhaps the newest and certainly the biggest city to offer free public transport, Seoul implemented the idea on January 25th 2018 as a means of cleaning up the city’s poor airways. The incentive is only offered during business hours, but allows citizens to get to and from work without having to pay fees.

At the same time, the municipal authorities also closed 360 car parks in a bid to discourage the use of private commuter cars. The measures are part of a concerted drive to remove South Korea from the upper echelons of the world’s most polluted countries, which it joined in 2016.


With a population of almost 450,000,  the Estonian capital is the biggest European city to offer free public transport. The scheme was launched in 2013 and is only open to registered residents of the city, each of whom must pay €1,000 in income tax every year to the city. As a result, the mayor’s office has turned a profit of €20 million a year, though it’s not clear whether it has had its intended impact of improving air quality and reducing transport-related pollution.

This is because while the use of public transport has increased by 8%, the average length of a car journey has increased by 31% as well - meaning there are now more cars on the road instead of less. It’s unclear whether this is due to changing habits in the Estonian people or limitations of the scheme, but regardless, at least the Estonian example shows it can be done.

German cities

Last month, German ministers announced that five cities will introduce free public transport on a trial basis before the end of 2018. The cities in question include former capital Bonn and industrial powerhouses Essen and Mannheim, and it’s hoped that their example will show that the idea is both financially feasible and effective at cutting pollution.

However, critics worry about how the government plans to finance the scheme, and also where it will source enough electric buses to meet the increased demand. As such, the idea is still at the drawing board stage, though it’s expected to come to fruition later this year.

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