Government plans on making county bus routes free for riders (1)
The new Estonian government is planning making changes that would allow for passengers to ride for free on county bus routes beginning in 2018; these routes are already heavily subsidized to a great extent by the state. Former Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Kristen Michal (Reform), however, finds this plan to be a step in the wrong direction.
The state is currently paying two-thirds of the cost of maintaining the operation of county bus lines in Estonia. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure’s new plan foresees a great increase in this amount beginning in 2018, however, reported ETV news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera."
"This [amount] is so great that it would offset the cost of fares currently collected and would additionally allow for bus schedule [frequency] to be increased simply because if public transport is accessible, it can be expected that there will be more passengers as well," explained Minister of Economic Affairs and Transport Kadri Simson (Center).
According the coalition agreement, an additional 21 million euros annually has been earmarked in the state budget for covering the cost of ticket sales as well as the improvement of and increased frequency on county bus lines.
"Public transport is the best opportunity for people to live where they live but find work farther from home than before," said Simson.
Margo Tomingas, executive director of bus transport provider ATKO, which serves state-subsidized county bus lines in nine Estonian counties, welcomes making county bus lines free for riders.
"A large group of riders, students, are already practically [riding] for free right now," Tomingas pointed out. "I believe that this is a reasonable plan for locals, who are the primary target group, because traffic is sparse out in the countryside and needed infrastructure services have been further removed from the people than they have previously been."
Former Minister of Economic Affairs Kristen Michal (Reform) does not believe, however, that the granting of additional money will entice more people to travel by bus. He found that in order to do that, quality must be enhanced instead.
"Simply giving additional money to public transport will not provide users with better results," Michal commented. "Surely it would bring some distortions to the public transport market. Apparently the amount of money would initially increase, but the question would remain regarding what this would actually give back to the people."
According to the former minister, it makes no difference to someone whether a bus is free or costs money if it doesn’t operate on the routes they need.
Simson noted that the details of the changes to take effect in 2018 are not all clear yet, and that the updating of the bus network is one subject which, in her words, will need more exact analysis as well as decisions.