A week ago, Agriculture Minister Helir-Valdor Seeder wrote to the chancellor of justice asking whether Tallinn was within its rights to restrict its free public transport only to registered residents. It touched off a debate that continues to resonate, if perhaps not as loudly as last summer's bus lane marking controversy.
In his initial response, Tallinn Deputy Mayor Taavi Aas responded that Seeder should instead focus on alleviating unemployment in the countryside; suggesting that the minister deal with his own problems.
But the outspoken Seeder countered that Tallinn is as influential and successful largely thanks to state presence.
"Tallinn isn't Tallinn because of the city authorities; it is Tallinn because the state has a strong presence," Seeder told uudised.err.ee. "No one has registered here so they can work for the municipal police; they have come for jobs created by the state. Also the government ministries, the National Library, Estonian Public Broadcasting, the Art Museum of Estonia and others [are located in Tallinn]."
Seeder told uudised.err.ee yesterday that officials should be worrying about migration in municipalities surrounding Tallinn. "It's off to hear that the departure of hundreds of people from neighboring municipalities, a total of at least 1,000 in total, is not a problem. Whether the influence is 1, 2 or 5 percent is not the question," said Seeder, adding that what needed to be clarified is whether Tallinn can select the groups outside its jurisdiction that qualify for preferential treatment.
He said that the free transport rights should be distributed not by a rush to register as Tallinners, but geographically.
Meanwhile a civic activist in Tallinn, Juho Kalberg of the Tellsikivi Society, said he would point the finger at the state and city equally.
"In the last 20 years, the state has not done anything significant in the field of public transport. Mobility and movement have been every person's individual concern," he told uudised.err.ee. "Thus it is quite logical that people become redistributed where their commute is the shortest."
He did call Seeder's letter to the chancellor of justice - and the purchase of new electric trains - as two of the more positive recent developments.
Kalberg also criticized the city, saying: "According to the city, two-thirds of car traffic in Tallinn is commuters from outside Tallinn. It's hard to believe that this group uses cars but can't afford a bus fare." He said more Tallinners who had previously gone on foot had started using buses and trams, but that otherwise not much had changed.
"The main routes go down corridors designed by the Soviet military industry and there are just as many bums and drug addicts in the tram no. 2 as before," he said.