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Can free rides bring savings? Mikkeli lets children ride bus gratis

The city of Mikkeli has made riding the bus free of charge for children, for school trips as well as travelling in their spare time. A four-year pilot in Pieksämäki even showed the scheme saved the city money.

Koululaisia nousemassa bussiin.
Future adult users of public transport? Image: Tarja Nyyssönen / Yle

Underage schoolchildren are now allowed to use local bus services in the city of Mikkeli entirely free of charge. The measure does not just extend to trips to and from school, either, as kids can get a free ride to extracurricular destinations as well.

The programme will run a two-year pilot phase, based on the success of nearby Pieksämäki, where children have been allowed to ride the bus without paying for the past four years.

In Pieksämäki money has actually been saved, as more paying customers board buses and expensive to-order transport services for schools and kindergartens can be phased out.

Small town benefits

The Pieksämäki programme has shown that the free ride model is suitable for small cities – only about 1,500 primary school students live there.

Eija Tynkkynen, principal of the Rantakylä school, says she sees the scheme as a positive way to teach children responsibility.

"Many have said that they never took the bus before, because their parents always gave them rides. This is a way to get young people to appreciate public transport," Tynkkynen says.

Bus ticket sales among underage passengers grew by 30 percent last year. This is due to the fact that teenagers who move on from primary education keep using the bus, even when it isn't free for them anymore.

In Mikkeli, the children themselves say the free pass is a welcome change.

"It's been really helpful in my spare time," says 8th-grader Helmi Hämäläinen. "You can just go to the bus stop and get on. I'm sure schools will use this too, for field trips and stuff."

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