Tallinn first EU capital to give residents free ticket to ride

Updated 29 January 2013
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Tallinn first EU capital to give residents free ticket to ride

TALLINN IS THE FIRST EU capital to offer its residents free public transport, and though the move aimed at driving down car pollution is proving popular, visitors feel let down and others are accusing City Hall of a campaign gimmick.
Since the start of the year, hopping on a bus, tram or trolleybus has become a fare-free proposition for Tallinn’s 420,000 residents. All they must do is validate a special pass proving they are eligible.
Pavel Ilmjarv, a 19-year-old student, says it’s taken a while to get used to the new routine of swiping his pass against a special reader at the start of each journey.
“It’s such a new thing, I often forget to do it,” Ilmjarv said, adding he previously didn’t need to swipe his monthly bus, which cost 23 euros.
“I’m not complaining, I love it,” he said, a sentiment echoed by the vast majority of resident commuters.
With Estonia’s average monthly salary at about 900 euros and around half the city’s population relying on public transport, a family of four could save hundreds of euros in transport costs each year.
But it’s a different story for non-residents.
As a Tallinn University student from Estonia’s coastal resort town of Parnu, Eve — who did not want to provide her last name — doesn’t qualify for a free ride. Even though she lives in the capital, her registered hometown is outside the city.
She gets an 8.50-euro student discount on the standard 23 euro pass. Meanwhile, visitors must shell out 1.60 euro per ticket.
“People from rural areas generally earn less than those in capital. I believe that in such a small state, transport in the capital where many people have to come not only for shopping, but also to visit state offices, should be free for everyone,” she told AFP at a tram stop in front of the university.
For non-Tallinners, the fine for being caught riding without a ticket could be as much as 60 euros — almost equal to Estonia’s monthly unemployed benefit.
Joblessness in this Baltic state of 1.3 million, which broke from the Soviet Union in 1991, joined NATO and the EU in 2004 and the eurozone in 2011, is hovering around 10 percent.
Toomas Pirn, a spokesman for Tallinn City Hall, says the free pass is already encouraging residents to leave their cars at home, easing both pollution and congestion in the picturesque, historic city center.
“We hope to limit the number of cars on streets, and via that, the pollution of city air. Studies have shown that in Tallinn cars pollute the air most,” Pirn says.
About half of all Tallinners have already taken advantage of the free public transport, he says, noting the project will cost the city around 12.4 million euros per year — about a quarter of its annual public transport budget.
Data collected from usage of the special resident passes has caused some to raise privacy concerns.
The Estonian Data Protection Inspectorate has warned people’s personal information and journey habits could be compromised, because the city intends to keep records of their movements for up to seven years.
Others believe City Hall, governed by the left-leaning Center Party, is more interested in currying voter support ahead of a municipal election this October than in fighting pollution.
Nothing of the sort, insists Deputy Mayor Taavi Aas.
He hopes the European Commission will soon name Tallinn as Europe’s Green Capital, a title held this year by Nantes in France before going to the Danish capital Copenhagen in 2014.

“We’re seeking the title for 2018 and hope that being the first EU capital offering a free ride to all city residents is among steps that helps us to get it,” he said.


‘Blast fishing’ thrives in Libya’s chaos

A Libyan man buys fish from a fishmonger at the Fish market in Tripoli on August 4, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 20 August 2018
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‘Blast fishing’ thrives in Libya’s chaos

  • There is still hope as long as some good fishermen respect the trade and go out at night with nets
  • The practice has its critics, including marine biologists, fishermen, and even religious leaders

TRIPOLI: Residents of Tripoli’s seafront wake up most weekends to loud blasts: fishermen using dynamite to maximize their catch, regardless of the damage they are causing to marine life.
Dynamite fishing, or “blast fishing,” has flourished — with impunity — since Libya’s 2011 uprising that left the country awash with weapons and explosives.
The Mediterranean country has since descended into chaos and violence, with two rival administrations struggling to impose the law and a myriad of militias vying for control of its oil wealth.
As a result, protecting fish stock and the environment are not a priority for the authorities, experts and officials say.
Haytham Ali, a newly-married teacher, lives less than 50 meters (yards) from the beach in the capital’s residential suburb of Hay Al-Andalous.
“My wife and I enjoy the peace and quiet of Friday mornings in our garden by the sea, but the explosions... as early as 7 am remind us of all that is wrong in this country,” he said.
Mariam, a 64-year-old widow, said the blasts frighten her grandchildren when they come to visit her home near the water.
“My whole house and my old windows shake with every blast... and I have to reassure my grandchildren that it’s only people fishing, not NATO bombs all over again,” she said, referring to the uprising that was backed by the Western alliance.
Dynamite fishing and the use of explosives without a permit are both officially against the law, but dynamite fishermen appear to be immune.
They even post anonymous videos online of sea water being propelled high into the sky and dozens of dazed or dead fish left behind on the surface.
“We hear (the blasts) but no one can do anything about it,” said Bannour Abu Kahal, head of the fisheries department in Garaboulli, east of Tripoli.

Some marine biologists, fishermen and fishmongers, and even religious leaders have tried to speak out against blast fishing but to no avail.
Using dynamite to catch fish “depletes the fish stock in the sea,” said Mokhtar, a fishmonger in central Tripoli, who declined to give his surname.
“This practice is not correct or healthy for the consumer” because it stuns the fish and shreds its skin, he said.
The explosives, known as “gelatine” in Libya, “kills the fish, the fish roe, larvae and sea plants,” said Fathi Al-Zaytuni, a fishmonger who uses nets for his catch.
The explosive devices used in Libya are mostly home-made and have caused dozens of deaths and injuries, according to media reports.
Lana news agency reported in March that three men from the same family died in a blast in the eastern city of Sirte as they were preparing bombs for blast fishing.

Sheikh Sadek Al-Ghariani, the country’s disputed top religious figure, has also waded into the controversy.
“If this type of fishing is banned by laws that regulate fishing, or if it is prejudicial to man and the environment, then it should not be practiced,” he said in a fatwa, religious edict, issued in 2013.
Abu Kahal, the fishing director in Garaboulli, urged “concerned authorities, especially the coast guard, to do their job and put an end to this kind of fishing.”
On a warm and humid August evening, retired fisherman Abdelrazag Al-Bahri, 72, sat at Tripoli port counting the few fishing boats heading out to sea to catch sardines.
“There is still hope as long as some good fishermen respect the trade” and go out at night to haul a catch the traditional way with nets, he said.
He said traditional fishing in Libya had mostly been the work of Egyptians and Tunisians but they had fled the country, with few Libyans now willing to replace them.