Tallinn public transport next in line for privatization

  • 2000-07-27
  • Jaclyn M. Sindrich
TALLINN - The city government here announced that public transportation is next in line for privatization, which may mean the death of the trolley bus.

The Tallinn Association of Trams and Trolley Buses and the Tallinn Bus Company are both currently 100 percent city-owned, but by Jan. 1, 2002, Tallinn vice mayor Liisa Pakosta expects they will be running as private companies.

A committee has been formed to establish the conditions for the privatization and has met three times so far, according to Pakosta. Supervisory council members include Vladimir Masterov, the deputy mayor of Tallinn, Moderate Party MP Tonis Peebo, Pro Patria Union MP Mikk-Jaan Mikk and Maret Maripuu, Reform Party representative.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development are the most likely overseers of the tender process.

Though all of the stipulations for purchasing the lines have not been decided yet, Pakosta said that no one company will be allowed to own more than a 50 percent stake.

"We are not interested in monopolies," she said.

But to either the sadness or the delight of their riders, Tallinn's 140 trolley buses are likely to become obsolete.

"There is the possibility that trolley bus lines will not be able to take part [in the bidding], or that they will take part but won't win," said Pakosta.

The aged blue-and-white trolley buses are a common sight in Tallinn as they bumble along with their large metal arcs sparking on (and often off) the track above, and passengers packed in like sardines below.

They are certainly not Tallinn's most comfortable mode of transportation, nor are they the cleanest, and city officials have suggested that gasoline-powered buses will replace them.

"Trolley bus traffic will simply die out, as it is not efficient or able to compete with much less expensive bus traffic. By now, the city is looking for ways to manage public transport more cheaply," said Tallinn Mayor Juri Mois in an interview with the daily Postimees.

Buses operate about one-and-a-half times more cheaply than the trolleys, city official say, and are also the more ecologically-minded option.

Trams, which now number 132 in the capital, will also survive.

"In major European cities, modernized city trams have the most plusses, are more environmentally-friendly and comfortable for the citizen," Pakosta said.

The Tallinn Association of Trams and Trolley Buses' financial director Mart Moosuse, however, argued that their calculations have not found such a cost disparity between bus and trolley bus operations. Moosuse said trolleys cost only about 10 percent more to operate, yet the city government has already decided to shut them out of the running in the bidding process. Pakosta admitted that although their days are numbered, trolley buses have been a fixture in the city since 1965, and many lower- and middle-income residents who use them daily may feel hesitant to make the switch to buses.

"Trolley buses are a part of the culture. I went to school for years on trolley buses. The [regular] bus made me sick and uncomfortable," she said. "But today, buses and modernized railway transport are more comfortable."