Bus travel between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania was reestablished on Friday as Lux Express relaunched operation of its Baltic routes; Ecolines will follow with its Riga route next week. Travelers must adhere to local restrictions in Latvia and Lithuania, where covering one's face is required on public transport.
Lux Express' early morning bus to Riga was filled to 90 percent capacity on Friday, although it was evident in the ticketing system that passengers had attempted to distance themselves from one another. Other passengers opted for later departures instead. The bus company's dynamic pricing system is offering tickets to Riga for as low as €9.
"We have also introduced the opportunity to ensure extra distance, for those people who want it: if someone wants to ensure that nobody sits in the seat next to them, they can buy an extra ticket for half off," said Rait Remmel, international business manager for Lux Express.
For now, Lux Express is operating three routes of 11, and at half of previous volumes. The company has reduced the wages of all of its drivers, but tried to avoid large-scale layoffs. In order to keep as many drivers employed as possible, work will be distributed evenly through the end of summer, after which workloads will begin to be restored again in stages.
According to Remmel, pre-crisis volumes can be expected to be restored in a year or year and a half's time, "If we're talking about the Baltics and domestic traffic in Estonia. Third countries — Russia, Belarus — that may take even longer."
Masks required in Latvia, Lithuania
Requirements vary by country in the Baltics, however. For example, in Estonia and Latvia, it is sufficient if the first row on a bus is roped off to passengers. In Lithuania, however, passengers are required to be spaced out chessboard-style.
The Baltics reached a mutual agreement regarding quarantine-free travel between the three countries, establishing a so-called "Baltic bubble," however the practical aspects thereof are still in the process of being hashed out; a dedicated working group has been established for this purpose.
"The Latvians have found that masks must be worn or at least mouths covered on buses," explained Ministry of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for European Affairs Märt Volmer. "In Lithuania, it's in public indoor spaces. In Estonia, you don't have to wear a mask. These are all internal decisions that have been made by each country separately."
According to Volmer, restrictions are discussed between the three Baltic countries, but not actually explicitly coordinated.
"But I believe that this harmonization will inevitably occur sooner or later, following life's pressures," he added.
Editor: Aili Vahtla