TALLINN - Legal chancellor Allar Joks has ruled that the new, residence-based system of ticket prices that went into effect in Tallinn from March 1 contradicts both the law on public transportation and the constitution.
In Joks' opinion, residency is an irrelevant factor in determining ticket prices, and a municipality can establish discount or beneficial prices only on the basis of a person's social, financial or health position.
In accordance to Tallinn's new system, starting March 1 monthly and quarterly passes for buses, trams and trolleys in the capital are up to 100 percent more for all people except those registered in the city of Tallinn and Harju county who possess the necessary ID card at the time of purchase.
From March 1 monthly passes for adults valid on non-express lines will remain at the 12 euro level for registered Tallinn residents, while for others the price will increase to 22 euros.
But Joks criticized the system, arguing that public transportation is a public service arranged by a municipality on its territory and must therefore be equally accessible to everyone.
Joks also pointed out that those segments of the population that enjoy free rides - pensioners over the age of 75, police officers on duty, mothers having many children - are not selected on the residence basis.
The legal chancellor sent a memorandum to the Tallinn city government on March 1, and the latter has to officially reply within 30 days.
Should the city refuse to abolish the registration-based ticket price policy, the chancellor said he intends to go to the State Court.
For their part, city officials said they had the right to set different prices for nonresidents of Tallinn since their taxes did not go to the city treasury and thus pay for its transportation system, which is heavily subsidized.
Chuck Czepyha, a U.S. citizen working in the IT sector who has lived in Tallinn for the past eight years, said the price change did not seem right from an economic point of view.
"People with less money will have to pay double the price. This just does not seem right," he said.
However, the worst thing about the ID-card-based ticket system, in Czepyha's opinion, is that families who used to buy one monthly pass for several people will not be able to do so anymore as one ticket will be tied to one particular person.
Bus tickets, like all other services, should have one price for everyone, he added.
"If Moscow, the city famous for charging foreigners more for everything, does not [charge foreigners more for public transportation services], neither must Tallinn," Czepyha reasoned.
Though Czepyha now lives in Tallinn's Old Town and does not use public transportation often, previously he resided in a residential district some 10 kilometers from downtown and used monthly passes.
Meanwhile, nonresident transportation users pounced upon their last opportunity to buy up monthly and quarterly passes at the old price. About 10,000 monthly passes were sold on Feb. 29, more than three times the average number usually sold in a day, according to Falck Eesti, a company that arranges the sales of public transportation tickets in Tallinn.
Still, by midday March 1 some 2,500 people had bought the new ticket - dubbed the ID ticket - according to the city government.
Tallinn earns about 200 million kroons (12.8 million euros) a year from the sale of public transportation ticket, and starting this month a minimum of 25 percent of the entire sum will come from ID-ticket sales, according to the city government.
The city government did not disclose how much the ID-ticket solution cost, but Jaanus Kase from Sertifitseerimiskeskus, a private firm developing digital signature technology that participated in the project, said that the annual maintenance costs would be covered from the 4.49 percent of ID-ticket sales in accordance with the contract between the city and the company.
Kase said Sertifitse-erimiskeskus, which is owned by Hansabank, Eesti Uhispank, Elion and EMT, would not make any profit on the ID-ticket project.
Sertifitseerimiskeskus, Eesti Uhispank and EMT helped develop the ID-ticket project.
The new ticket pricing system is electronic and utilizes the chip storage capacity of the ID card that doubles as a passport within Estonia. Popularity of the ID card among public transportation users in Tallinn has grown rapidly, and last week alone the Citizenship and Migration Board issued 5,871 ID cards. Currently a little over 140,000 people out of the 395,000 people registered in Tallinn possess the card.