Mobile phone tickets have proved to be more popular than tickets bought from drivers during a test project that allows riders on one of the city's five tram lines and four of its 58 buses to send SMS messages to purchase tickets.
On July 9, the first day of the program, riders bought 220 of these "m-tickets." More than 400 were sold on the third day. And by the end of the week, riders were buying about 500 m-tickets a dayfive times the number of tickets sold by drivers on these routes.
"We didn't have any expectations," said Teet Jheomagi, chairman of Regio Ltd., which along with Tartu-based Mobi Solutions developed the mobile-ticketing system. "We just wanted to see what would happen. And the numbers speak for themselves."
Tallinn officials will decide in December if the city will keep the service from Regio and Mobi, said Enn Saar, Tallinn's transit manager.
"So far we are quite satisfied," Saar said. "We didn't hope for so many tickets so fast."
M-tickets do not cost the city anything, Saar said. Regio and Mobi, who together invested 200,000 kroons ($12,000) in the project, will maintain the system by keeping a percentage of the ticket costs that riders pay, said Rain Rannu, a Mobi partner.
M-tickets are targeted to people who do not use public transportation often enough to have a monthly pass, Saar said. About 5 percent of those who travel on Tallinn's buses and trams buy single-ride tickets. City officials and technology developers hope the ease of m-tickets will encourage more people to ride the buses and trams.
"Our goal is not to substitute paper tickets," Jheomagi said, "but to bring young, dynamic and successful people to public transportation."
Saar said the m-tickets, which are advertised in English on trams and buses, would also make it easier for tourists to use public transportation.
Helsinki started the m-ticket trend in December. In the Finnish capital, where 95 percent of people between the ages of 16 and 60 own mobile phones, 10 percent of all ticket sales are m-tickets, said Jaarmo Reeaakonon, Helsinki's fare planner.
A recent survey revealed that 90 percent of respondents thought the Helsinki m-ticket system was good or very good. At the end of this year, the city will decide whether to maintain the option.
Meanwhile, the European Union's Telepay Project is developing m-ticketing in Rome, Paris, Berlin and Turku, Finland.
So far the systems have been easy for riders to use and for officials to monitor. Ticket controllers look at mobile phone screens to see the ticket.
Even though it is possible to send an SMS to yourself saying a ticket has been purchased, Tallinn officials say it is nearly impossible to cheat because each legitimate ticket is assigned a random eight-digit code, which controllers can verify, Saar said.Now the cost of an m-ticket in Tallinn is 10 kroons - the same as a paper ticket purchased at a kiosk, but 5 kroons less than one bought from a driver.
If the city decides to keep the system, the price of the m-ticket probably will increase by about 2 kroons to include the mobile operator's fee for sending a text message.
Jheomagi said he didn't expect this to make the tickets less popular. He said for the last two years people had been paying more to park their cars in the city if they paid over a mobile phone.
"People in Tallinn are used to paying for SMS," he said. "Convenience costs money."
The m-ticket developers said they knew the service would do well in Estonia, where about 700,000 people, or more than 50 percent of the population, have mobile phones. Estonians are also quick to adapt to new technology because they are used to 10 years of changes in the government, economy and society, Jheomagi said.
"One year here is like five years somewhere else," he said.
Mobi, Regio and other companies are eager to start offering more mobile transactions. At this year's Beer Summer, festival-goers could buy beers with SMS messaging. And Mobi is currently developing m-tickets for movies, events and buses in other cities.
"The only disadvantage I can see is if we concentrate too many things into one device and something happens to that device, we are lost," Jheomagi said.