Intercity domestic bus routes may be taken over by the Road Administration and local public transport hubs as passenger numbers fall. So far, this has been done with only one line in Estonia, but fewer passengers are traveling and the situation for commercial carriers is getting worse.
Estonian bus companies canceled 483 trips on Wednesday, March 25. Lux Express has proposed to the government that the company should suspend all intercity bus journeys.
On the first day of the state of emergency, 60 percent of the passengers remained on long-distance lines, but today only one in five is still traveling. The carriers reacted quickly, such as Taisto and GoBus, which have also cut their services.
Kirke Williamson, head of the Public Transport Department at the Road Administration, told ERR intercity bus traffic should not be stopped: "If we encounter a situation where the long-distance commercial buses largely stop serving people who were commuting to work, we will replace these lines with public long-distance lines in cooperation with public transportation centers."
Currently, this has only been carried out with one line.
Kaupo Kase, head of Viljandi County Public Transport Center, said: "We have one line that goes from Karksi-Nuia to Pärnu. We have taken over this line due to the fact that Taisto stopped services running all the way to Märjamaa from Tallinn. And that's what we pay for this ride. That was how the people of Märjamaa were helped."
Kase is also closely following the Tartu-Viljandi buses, but currenrly there are five buses running each day on this route.
Kirke Williamson said major concerns are now arising in southern Estonia. Buses traveling between Tartu and Võru have been significantly cut.
Williamson acknowledged the bus lines the public sector which may have to take over will probably be known in the near future. "It is known today that this state of emergency is still in place for another month. And every day there are new changes. We don't know have to react to it either. But we cannot make a situation where people cannot get to work. We all understand that in some places we will need to be more flexible."
However, there have been some instances where people have been traveling less on public bus lines and reduced schedules are in place. Since no money is being charged for a county line ticket, bus drivers and public transport centers are not aware of the direct economic impact.
Williamson says eight public transport centers are now using timetables which are usually used during school holidays, two centers have cut several lines and in some places nothing has been changed at all.
But already thoughts are turning to what will happen when the emergency situation ends. Kaupo Kase says commercial lines will need time to recover. Temporary public long-distance lines should probably not become permanent fixtures of timetables. Kirke Williamson believes it will take a long time to emerge from the crisis and recover the previously seen number of passengers.
Editor: Helen Wright