Each year, Tallinn Municipal Police remove several hundred abandoned cars from city streets that have occupied parking spaces, hampered traffic and, in the worst case, posed a hazard. "Pealtnägija" reporter Kristjan Pihl rode along with them to find out more about why this issue is so overwhelming and what is being done to resolve the problem.
Municipal Police Inspector Talehh Gusseinov is one of the capital city's most experienced street patrols and has been involved in the removal of hundreds of abandoned vehicles in Tallinn. Toomas, a man in his 60s living on a quiet street in Haabersti District, is one of his regulars.
"As you can see, he currently has four vehicles — seven vehicles — in his driveway, and not one of them is drivable," Gusseinov said. "These are what I call spaceship builders — at some point I think they want to build a spaceship out of these scrap vehicles and fly to the moon. I think this would be a good solution, actually; it would best suit their neighbors."
On one hand, Toomas' hobby is impeding traffic on the narrow street, but on the other, several of the cars are standing on city property, due to which municipal police officials have paid dozens of visits to the site, but without avail. A few months ago, the owner moved three of the vehicles from the street to his driveway, but stopped there. Desperate neighbors have offered to buy the junk vehicles from him in hopes of getting the street cleared, but Toomas has since refused all dialogue altogether.
Municipal police time significantly tied up by scrap vehicles
At the other end of town, Gusseinov's colleague, Inspector Šahrijar Abdullajev, has spent three months already investigating how six wrecked vehicles appeared overnight among apartment buildings in Lasnamäe. This hasn't proven easy, as the owner has clearly intentionally covered up their tracks by removing the vehicles' license plates and other identifying details. If they cannot get ahold of the vehicles' owner, however, they cannot order them to remove the vehicles.
These are just two examples of an issue that has grown surprisingly large in scale. Over the past year, municipal police removed more than 300 abandoned vehicles from city streets, but those involved say this is akin to emptying the ocean with a thimble.
"In the second half of last year, the majority of our work involved scrap vehicles," Abdullajev said. "Nearly 60-65 percent of our time was spent on scrap vehicles, and this trend is currently continuing."
The problem seems to have gotten worse over the years, particularly in residential areas, where parking spaces are already scarce. According to the inspectors, you can find hundreds of vehicles that either don't have a registered owner, which have not passed vehicle inspections or have not budged in years.
"The primary issue is the lack of parking spaces," Abdullajev said. "Let's say some 95 percent of complaints we have received involve the fact that people have nowhere to park. In some lots, five, six, seven spots are taken up by these abandoned vehicles."
"There are nearly 200 vehicles in Väike-Õismäe alone that should be in the junkyard, let's put it that way," Gusseinov said. "200 vehicles! And I believe there may be nearly 1,000 vehicles in Tallinn that need to be cleared or somehow else taken into use by their owners."
Ministry drawing up bill to amend Traffic Act
Many find that the Municipal Police Department's work is tilting at windmills, but a particularly vivid illustration of the officials' fight dates back to January, when photos made their way through the media of Municipal Police officials discovering that someone was living in an abandoned vehicle. In that case, the owner of the vehicle was determined and the vehicle removed, however a similar situation has cropped up on the other side of town, where someone has been discovered to be living out of an abandoned vehicle that has stood in front of Saku Suurhall, a major event site, for months. As the vehicle appears to be whole, nothing can officially be done about it.
Thus Municipal Police officials must go around begging for owners to remove their scrap vehicles. It is a race against the clock, however, as abandoned vehicles often end up the target of vandalism or arson, as happened a few years ago with a vehicle abandoned in Lasnamäe whose owner had been sought for some time by officials.
Estonian Automotive Recyclers' Association board member Toomas Lember believes that such bureaucracy shouldn't exist, as the law already contains all the necessary language with which to compel vehicle owners. Instead of continuing to force officials to run around, he found that ministries should work out a uniform policy under which all vehicles lacking a valid vehicle inspection or motor vehicle insurance for an extended period of time could be removed from public spaces.
"These opportunities absolutely exist in the law," Lember said. "Everything depends on how someone wants to interpret them."
He added that one must remain reasonable, citing as an example that if someone's vehicle inspection only just expired yesterday or last week, or even last month, then their vehicle doesn't immediately need to be taken from them, but noted that the owner should be contacted and given the chance to address the issue and not leave their vehicle sitting there.
In response to a request by the City of Tallinn, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications is in the process of drawing up a bill of amendments to the Traffic Act which would simplify the process of clearing abandoned vehicles from the city. In a written response to "Pealtnägija," the ministry promised that the bill would reach the Riigikogu by this fall at the latest. Until then, Gusseinov, Abdullajev and their colleagues will simply have to continue relying on their powers of persuasion and charisma, as there is still plenty of work to go around.
Editor: Aili Vahtla