'Tallinn needs to open up its harbors'

  • 2005-05-18
  • Interview by Gary Peach
Tallinn's city government has twice been thrust into the whirlwind over the past few months 's morphing from a Reform-Centrist coalition to Reform-Res Publica and then Res Publica-Centrist. To non-Estonian observers, the shakeup seems extraordinarily Byzantine, more so than any of the sundry political webs that exist in the Baltics. Be that as it may, the city's new leadership is filled with ambitious, energetic professionals eager to enact their long-term vision of the capital. One of them, Deputy Mayor Toivo Promm, recently met with The Baltic Times to share his thoughts on transport infrastructure in Tallinn.

Before going to City Hall, you were CEO of KS Stivideerimise, a stevedoring company. How did you become involved in municipal politics?

At the end of last year there were some ownership changes in stevedoring companies, and I moved into a different field of business. So I was not completely occupied when these changes occurred in the city government. I had some discussions with Res Publica, and their views suited me, and they found out that I had decent income, and so now I'm here.

Was it difficult for the municipal city government to work when the national government, the one led by former PM Juhan Parts, was in crisis?

No, it didn't influence the city.

Why is that? It would seem that, in such a small country, if parties were fighting on the national level they would go at it in the country's biggest city.

Maybe it influenced a little. Of course, our opposition parties here in the city would like to have influence as well, but we have a coalition agreement, and both parties [Res Publica and Center Party 's ed.] are willing to fulfill it.

Why were you given the transportation profile?

Because my experience was in transportation and transit 's I worked in this sphere for 10 years.

And what will you try to do for the city? What initiative are you taking to change Tallinn's transportation infrastructure?

Now we are carrying out due diligence of Tallinn's bus and tram and trolleybus companies. We want to see whether it is feasible to keep them as two separate entities. Based on my business experience, I believe that we can save money by merging them. I also believe that there are some assets there that are not being used properly.

Will Tallinn keep these three main forms of transportation in the long-term? Is there a strategic transport plan for the city? Many European cities don't have trams or trolleybuses.

Now is not the time to make any major changes. If Tallinn wanted to shut down, for example, its trolleybuses, it should have done so five years ago. But there've been investments recently, so it would be unreasonable to shut them down. The first test is due diligence 's to determine whether these companies are efficient. I don't want to say [that it is necessary to] change management, but we want to see what is happening inside the companies.

What other initiatives are you brining to your department?

One big transportation project we have is light-rail. We are planning to install it over a 17-kilometer route from Lasnamae to Mustamae. It's a new transportation capability, though we haven't decided who would manage it 's whether an existing company or a new operator. That'll be the second part of the project.

We have hired one company to determine where exactly the route should go, and together with the Ministry of Economy and Communication to submit this project to the EU. We want to ask the EU for finance. According to preliminary discussions, the ministry believes this project is capable to getting EU funds.

Could this light-rail be operated by a private company?

It is possible. It depends upon which way is the most economical, considering investment and operational costs.

What is your projection for the future of Tallinn's streets? Are there going to be still more cars? The traffic here is horrendous 's worse than in Riga, I think.

This is directly connect to what we just talked about 's the light-rail project. Some families have two or three cars now. If we improve the quality of public transportation, then more people will leave their cars home. Then if they don't leave them at home, then they'll leave them on the city outskirts. A park-and-ride system 's that's one of Tallinn's possible futures.

What about transportation with Helsinki? Are any changes planned?

One project is to organize transportation cooperation between Tallinn and Helsinki so that there would be one ticketing system and if you buy a ticket in Tallinn you can use it on Helsinki's public transportation. We meet to discuss this project about once per month, but I myself am not deeply involved in it.

Part of your job is also to work as ombudsmen for small businesses, both Estonian and foreign. What kind of complaints do you normally hear?

Businessmen don't complain that much. The main complaints deal with zoning regulations. Everyone wants to build skyscrapers.

What about problems with business?

Of course, there are problems. One of them is with Unicom [an outdoor advertising company.] The contract was made two years ago on an informal basis 's to the detriment of the city. According to our calculations, they received their investment back in one year. [The Tallinn administrative court recently rescinded contracts signed with Unicom, a decision that, in the words of Mayor Tonis Palts, showed the city government was doing the right thing. - ed.]

But that means Unicom made the agreement while the Center Party was in power. And they're your ally now.

But we have a point in the coalition agreement saying that all contracts that are unprofitable to the city can be reviewed.

Are you involved with the Port of Tallinn?

It is one of my main interests 's to open up the city of Tallinn as a sea outlet. Not just cargoes, but to develop more small ship transportation in Tallinn Bay 's more yachts, more people buying boats and sailing to the islands. There are very few small yacht ports 's Tallinn is poor in this regard. If you go to Helsinki, or Copenhagen, or London, you see all different kinds of boats and yachts and people sailing on their holidays. This is my big interest.

This is a big part of Tallinn city development 's to relocate part of the port westward, close to the railroad in northern Tallinn, and open up the harbors so that more tourists and more Estonians can come to the city and sail out to sea.