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The Estonian transport system is very car-centred and the main challenge in the coming decades will be to reduce the environmental impacts relating to cars. The study “Mobility Profiles of the Residents of Estonia”, commissioned by the Foresight Centre, shows that at least one-fifth of urban dwellers would be ready to replace using a private car with more sustainable means of mobility.

“During the last 18 years, the number of those who travel to work by public transport, on foot or by bicycle has decreased by 120,000, and the number of registered private cars has doubled,” expert of the Foresight Centre Uku Varblane said. “Besides the large environmental impact, an urban transport system relying on private cars is ineffective and wastes space.”

Uku Varblane believes that transport pollution can be reduced mainly in larger cities and the areas surrounding them where most of the travelling takes place and opportunities to rearrange mobility patterns are wider than elsewhere.

In the study “Mobility Profiles of the Residents of Estonia”, the residents of Estonia were grouped into nine mobility profiles based on their means of mobility, socio-demographic attributes and behaviour patterns.

The profiles preferring active means of mobility (walking and cycling) mainly include up to 34-year-olds living mostly in larger cities, for whom environmental awareness is also important in making other consumption choices. “The study also confirmed that younger people make more diverse choices in terms of means of mobility. Various sharing services are used actively and they are combined with cycling, kick scooters and other personal transporters. Also, renting a car is preferred to owning one,” Varblane said. “This group is not very large yet, but it is growing steadily.”

The mobility profiles of the car-centric population show that, in low-density rural areas, public transport generally provides no alternative to a private car in speed or convenience of use. “Modernisation of the public transport service and linking it with user-centred service solutions has a great potential,” Varblane noted. “Besides improving the availability of public transport, subsidies for acquiring or renting less polluting cars could be an option.”

Regarding urban means of mobility, the study shows that, for several target groups, fast and comfortable public transport would be a strong alternative to the daily use of the car. “Especially if it is taken into account more in the planning of larger cities. If improvement of the quality of public transport is accompanied by conscious abandonment of the prioritisation of car traffic, the number of public transport users may indeed grow,” Varblane said. “The planning that favours different means of mobility improves the urban living environment, and may stop and, in a more distant future, even reverse the current urban sprawl.”

He added that the study also indicated the importance of an effective parking policy in nudging people’s mobility choices. “This does not necessarily have to mean reducing the number of parking spaces and raising prices, but this may instead be carried out in the form of incentives, like bonuses provided by employers to those who do not need or use parking places.”

The study “Mobility Profiles of the Residents of Estonia” was conducted by consultancy company Kantar Emor and commissioned by the Foresight Centre. It is a part of the Centre’s 2021 study project “Future of Mobility”.

The final report of the whole study project will be presented on 25 May at 11 a.m.

The study “Mobility Profiles of the Residents of Estonia” is available in Estonian at https://bit.ly/3yc0KaA.

The Foresight Centre is a think tank at the Chancellery of the Riigikogu that analyses long-term developments in society and the economy. The Centre conducts research projects to analyse the long-term developments in Estonian society and identify new trends and development directions.