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Estonia’s capital gives residents a free ride

TALLINN, Estonia — Estonia’s capital became the world’s first to introduce free public transport for all of its residents.

All that’s required is a transit pass showing you’re a registered Tallinner — and the city’s buses, streetcars and trams are yours for free.

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‘‘I live on a tight budget since I don’t have too much work right now,’’ said Mare Tulp, who recently registered as a Tallinn resident. ‘‘I need to save money wherever I can, so I’m very happy with the free public transit scheme. This is a good thing for the common person.’’

Three months after launching the initiative, city officials are hailing the experiment as a success, though skeptics call it an expensive, populist trick ahead of local elections.

The free-ride scheme is the brainchild of Mayor Edgar Savisaar, who wants to reduce congestion and pollution while alleviating expenses for the city’s poor.

Savisaar has even dubbed the program the ‘‘13th monthly salary’’ since, he claims, families will be able to save a month’s salary now that they can get around Tallinn for free.

Deputy Mayor Taavi Aas said the experiment, which will cost the city $16 million annually in lost ticket sales, has surpassed expectations.

Passenger numbers are up 10 percent, while the number of cars on city streets has fallen by as much as 15 percent, according to Tallinn’s transport authority.

A recent opinion poll commissioned by the city showed that nine out of 10 Tallinn residents are satisfied with the project.

‘‘People now move around the city more frequently during weekends,’’ Aas said. ‘‘This means they also spend more money, which boosts the economy.’’

City officials say it’s too early to tell how much the city’s economy has been stimulated in this way.

But the program is expected to boost the city’s tax revenue because the registration requirement is essentially winning the city more taxable residents.

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