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Helsinki, Tallinn plan combination travel card by 2021

The combination service will initially be available as an app while a travel card will be introduced later on.

Raitiovaunu pysähtyneenä Tallinnan keskustassa ovet auki
Estonian officials believe that the cards, which can be used for commuter travel in both cities, will be available by 2021. Image: Siim Lõvi / Viron yleisradio

Starting next spring, commuters will be able to use Helsinki Regional Transport’s travel card app for public transportation in Tallinn, the Estonian capital.

It's part of a long-planned combination travel service for use in Helsinki and Tallinn and will first be available as a mobile app.

"We have a goal that next spring we will be able to offer tickets for public transportation in Tallinn here [in Helsinki] via the HSL app and vice versa as well," HSL division head Mari Flink said.

The biggest winners under the proposed system will be Estonians travelling in Helsinki as they will be able to use a travel app purchased via the Estonian service pilet.ee to move around on HSL routes. Currently, they have to download the HSL app separately and link it to a bank card – or purchase tickets from automated ticket vending machines.

Standing outside the Western Harbour in Helsinki, Estonian Triin O’Brock said she was excited to hear of the new combined travel service. She had downloaded the Discover Helsinki app on her smartphone in the mistaken belief that she would also be able to use it to buy tickets to travel on public transportation.

"Well it didn’t work so now I’m queuing at this ticket machine. I missed one tram already so hopefully I’ll catch the next one," she added

Estonian cards a step ahead

It will be some time however, before a combination travel card can be used, because travel cards in Helsinki and Tallinn are very different. Although they appear to be similar at a glance, they are based on different platforms.

The technical implementation of the Estonian cards is more modern, so Tallinn public transportation officials will have to wait for HSL to catch up and design a card that works according to the same logic.

"I don’t think we are talking about years," Flink said about the waiting period. Her colleague Tiit Laikso from Tallinn was a bit more optimistic.

"We are aiming for the combination card to be available in 2021," he commented.

HSL is also looking into the possibility of using contactless payment options used already in Tallinn public transportation in the HSL fleet. But there is no fixed timetable for that project.

"There a strong will to come up with some kind of timetable for implementing contactless payments in public transportation but that is a major step. We have more than 2,000 vehicles so that’s a large number of card readers," Flink pointed out.

Card readers currently installed in public transportation vehicles do not offer a contactless payment option. HSL said that there would be no point in upgrading them, but noted that it is looking into the possibility of adding the feature via a separate add-on device.

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