Tallinn to make public transport free

A rail project will link Tallinn, shown here, to Berlin via Warsaw by 2025

Estonia's capital Tallinn said Monday it will become the first European capital with free public transport, but critics slammed the move as a politically motivated waste of money.

City authorities said public transport will be free from January 1, 2013, and pointed to a recent poll that found three quarters of the capital's 416,000 supported the idea.

"Tallinn is the first capital in Europe to take the step of making public transport free," Mayor Edgar Savisaar said Monday in a press release, adding the move would make the city "the flagship of green movement in Europe."

Officials also noted the Estonian capital, a popular tourist destination for Finns and Russians, has spearheaded the European Green Capital movement aimed at boosting environmental protection in capital cities.

Ticket sales currently cover up to 33 percent of the costs of public transit in Tallinn, officials note.

Critics see the move as a waste of public funds and an attempt by Mayor Savisaar to win popularity for his centre-left Centre Party, which is part of the opposition in the national parliament.

A Monday opinion poll showed the Centre party lost its position as the leading left-wing opposition party to its social democratic rivals.

Other critics insists that free public transit will turn the system into mobile shelters for the homeless.

Estonia, a nation of 1.3 million people, joined the European Union in 2004 and adopted the euro in 2011.