Tallinn is working on reforming its public transport system which should yield new bus lines and stops in the capital. The opposition finds the current network of lines to be from the era of Soviet occupation and believes Tallinn lacks mobile communications data on which a successful reform might be based.
Tallinn has almost 67 daily bus lines, four trolleybus lines and five tram lines. The city also operates five night bus lines, with red-eye connections from the city center to Viimsi and Vana-Pääsküla added recently.
Tallinn Deputy Mayor Vladimir Svet told ERR that the city plans to go over its entire network of lines, which replaces earlier rhetoric of merely optimizing parts of the system.
"Optimization is not the right word. Rather, we are talking about a new public transport system or lines network," Svet remarked.
Tallinn first wants to find independent experts to analyze and comment on the Transport Department's thoughts and plans. The initial reform plans could be shared with the public and local communities involved in April or May. The first changes could start in the fall.
Tartu reformed its public transport system in 2019. Svet said that Tallinn's reform will differ in that the capital has well-established tram and trolleybus lines which will not be altered. However, bus routes and the locations of some bus stops are subject to changes.
The deputy mayor also said that additional parking for buses will need to be constructed in the suburbs. New bus stops are planned at the intersection of Pärnu maantee and Liivalaia tänav. He added that changes in 2024 will likely not require reconstructing existing infrastructure.
Tiskre, Astangu and south City Center (Kesklinn)
Svet pointed out that several new urban regions have cropped up over the last few decades which sport poorer public transport access than the rest of the city. There are plans to add new lines in places like Tiskre and Astangu.
The deputy mayor also said that while most lines have been designed to bring people to the heart of the city, people's movement habits have since changed.
"There are centers of attraction which may come to compete with the city center in time. Places like Kristiine, Roccal al Mare or Ülemiste," Svet said, giving the example of the Kristiine shopping mall and the surrounding area being more important than the Hobujaama intersection when it comes to public transport.
He also mentioned development in the City Center district south of Liivalaia tänav and the need for more public transport there.
Tallinn's earlier plans include adding a new tram line from Tartu maantee through Liivalaia and Suur-Ameerika to the Kristiine overpass, once work is completed on the Old Harbor tram line.
Pere: City lacking data for proper development
Data from Statistics Estonia suggests 29 percent of people in Tallinn used public transport to commute to work in 2022, while 49 percent used a car, 13 percent walked and 3 percent used a motorcycle or bicycle.
Head of the leading opposition group in the Tallinn City Council, the Reform Party's Pärtel-Peeter Pere described Tallinn's public transport system as unsatisfactory, which is reflected in low user figures.
"The lines network is from the period of occupation, which is a major problem with a tangible solution," he said.
He explained that reworking the city's public transit links is a major digital effort that requires both a better mobility model and updated mobile communications data.
"The city is currently working with mobile data from five years ago. In other words, we don't really know where people live and work."
Pere suggested that Tallinn should emulate Tartu in sourcing mobile network data from service providers with an estimated cost of €5 million. He added that drawing up a solid mobility model would cost half a million euros.
The city council member said that while the opposition proposed procuring the necessary data in 2024, the ruling coalition rejected it, while still saying how it's all very necessary and how they plan to rework the lines network. "How? Using which data? All of it remains unclear to say the least," Pere said.
Svet: City has the data needed to reform the public transport system
The deputy mayor did not agree with Pere's criticism, saying that the most important thing is to know which lines get how many passengers.
"This data is provided by sensors which have been installed in well over half the fleet and will eventually reach every vehicle. That is the data allowing us to pinpoint where people get in and where they get off as well as how many passengers different lines get."
Sven said that Tallinn also uses data from validators on board public transport vehicles, with roughly 45 percent of passengers bothering to register their trips. He described the city's traffic model as effective as it counts on both mobile positioning and tax board data.
"If we feel that the population structure has changed considerably or we have new urban regions with tens of thousands of residents, we can always procure more data. But we rather believe the city's mobility model to be effective."
Pere: Abolishing free public transport would pay for a new tram line every year
Tallinn's 2024 budget holds €124 million for passenger transport and public transit infrastructure.
Pärtel-Peeter Pere said that the city should make much smarter use of public transport money. He suggested that Tallinn does need separate city property, transport and city planning departments all of which could be merged.
The opposition politician also said that the capital should abolish free public transport for residents, which is currently costing each Tallinn taxpayer €260 annually.
"Let us take free public transport or taxpayer-funded transport in Tallinn. Of the €124 million to be spent on public transport this year, 35 percent or €54 million is missed ticket revenue. Before free public transport in 2012, ticket revenue paid for 35 percent of the public transport budget. The Old Harbor tram line development cost €51 million, including European funding. This means that better use of taxpayer money would allow us to build a new tram line every year," Pere said.
Vladimir Svet promised that free public transport will not disappear for as long as the Center Party remains in power in Tallinn.
"We can see that the Reform Party does not believe in free public transport and is about to end it on the county level. But is it translating into more public transport connections? It is not. Is it translating into more departures? Again, it's not," Svet said.
Hannes Falten, head of service for Tallinn City Transport (TLT), said that people took 137 million trips using Tallinn's buses, trams and trolleybuses last year. The company's fleet comprises of 559 buses, 42 trolleybuses and 66 trams, which are operated by around 1,560 drivers. Tallinn has a total of 1,095 public transport stops 989 of which have waiting pavillions.
Editor: Marcus Turovski