A Bloomberg transit dream come true, in Estonia

On a trolley in Tallinn. (Teresaaaa via Flickr)
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg believes that, in an ideal world, mass transit would be free.

"If you were gonna design, keep in mind, the perfect public transportation system, you would have it be free and you would charge people to use cars, because you want the incentive to get them to do that," said the mayor in September.

It looks like the mayor's dream has come true—not in New York City, where it will almost certainly never happen, but in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.

On Wednesday, Estonian Public Broadcasting reported, "Public transport in the capital became free for registered Tallinners on New Year's Day as the city's much-debated reform took effect."

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Also: "mechanical and electronic ticket validating machines will be uninstalled in the first days of the New Year."

This revolution in mass transit financing, described by the city's mayor as the first of its kind in Europe, has not come without controversy.

As the BBC reported last year, "Critics see the move as a waste of public funds and an attempt by [Mayor Edgar] Savisaar to win popularity for his centre-left Centre Party, part of the opposition in the national parliament."

Certainly, the city will have to invest more resources in its system of trollies, buses and trams than it has had to in the past.

Last year, ticket sales accounted for about 35 percent of the system's operating costs.

Much as Bloomberg might dream, this sort of thing won't ever happen in New York City, at least not any time in the forseeable future.

Aside from the obvious differences between Tallinn's system and our own—here, ticket sales account for more than 50 percent of the system's operating costs, and the M.T.A.'s service area encompasses many times the population of Tallinn—the dialogue about government investment in transit is moving in the opposite direction.

“What’s been happening in recent years, with all the anti-government attitudes, and anti-taxes and so on, fares have been going up on these things, and the poor are the ones that are getting priced out,” Elliott Sclar, a Columbia University urban planning professor, told me, for an article about free transit in October.