Rail operator Elron implemented additional tickets for bicycles from this week and although the company promised the tickets would cost 50 percent of the train ticket itself, the operation will cost more to regular passengers, as there is no discount for bicycles.
"The cycle fine is active from today (Monday - ed) - if my commute costs €1.40, my bicycle will go to work for €1.70. You cannot pre-purchase the tickets, there is also no monthly ticket," said Johanna, a commuter to Tallinn living in Laitse.
"If it was a ticket, I would be able to buy it before the trip, book it, buy it physically, buy it online. The only option now is getting on the train and the conductor tells you to buy it. It is a fine," she added.
Travelers can leave their bicycles at their local station for the day, but taking it to Tallinn makes it cheaper than purchasing public transportation passes. "The monthly ticket for Tallinn public transportation is unbelievably expensive," Johanna said, adding that she has health issues, which impede on his mobility on foot.
The commuter noted that she has nothing against bicycle tickets as a whole, but it seems like the price is disproportionate and does not allow passengers to plan their trips in advance. In addition, she is bothered by the fact that she cannot purchase period tickets, which would guarantee a spot for her bicycle.
At the same time, she was provided a calming message by Elron customer service: cyclists are not left behind if the bicycle hooks are full, they can still transport their bicycles in the aisles. It has just become a paid service now.
When Elron announced the decision to implement cycle tickets, the rail operator promised that the tickets would not cost more than 50 percent of the regular train ticket. But there is a hook here - the company meant full tickets and not discounts.
However, a majority of passengers taking bicycles on the train are not just people going out for a Sunday ride, they are people living in cities such as Tallinn and Tartu or people living in the vicinity of these cities, who commute to work each day and are registered in their place of residence. This comes with a discount, which is paid to Elron by the local municipalities. So Tallinn's residents can use the train for free within the city limits, people living in municipalities close to Tallinn, can use the train for free in their muncipality.
So Johanna, who is registered as a resident in Saue municipality, can ride the train for free from Laitse to Laagri, the ticket price is only made up of stops in Tallinn, i.e. the first zone. That local resident discount is not imposed on cycle tickets, however. So the passenger will end up paying 1.2 times as much for a cycle ticket compared to a regular ticket. Return trips, too.
In conclusion, just transporting a bicycle back and forth 20 times a week would cost Johanna over €68, in addition to the local resident monthly ticket of €29.50.
Ronnie Kongo, director of development and sales of Elron, told ERR that he does not agree with Johanna's interpretation of the tickets actually being a fine for using a bicycle to move around.
"If I go to the store to buy milk, it is not a fine. If people use a service, they pay for it, just as they do with buying milk. Did the person feel like they were fined when they bought the bicycle," Kongo asked.
Since local municipality residents' tickets are subsidized by their respective municipality government, they should also subsidize cycle tickets. But there are no discounts for cycle tickets. Elron does not plan on getting into discussions with municipality governments, either, because Kongo said a cheaper ticket is not the company's goal.
"The local municipality government could theoretically pay for the ticket, but it would not serve the purpose. Our desire was not to make money off these cycle tickets, it was to have people leave their bicycles at the station. If someone ends up paying for it, we would not fulfill this goal. We want all our passengers to have comfortable trips going forward. Passengers with bicycles also suffer, if there is no room for their bicycles," Kongo explained.
He added that the difference in room in the aisles is clearly visible with the tickets being implemented for two days.
Johanna could leave her bicycle at the train station in Laitse, because the local municipality has developed a bicycle path and parking lot near the station. Most stations do not have parking spaces for bicycles, however.
Kongo does not see this as a problem. "We are primarily speaking of larger stations, where a lot of people hop on the train. There are places to keep you bicycles there. I went to check it myself the other day, there was still room for bicycles in the parking lots, most passengers have a place to leave their bicycles," the Elron official said.
He emphasized that people can also use public transportation in larger cities, so they do not need to take their bicycles out at all. "If riding bicycles becomes very cheap, a situation will develop where people use bicycles as a means of transport more than it is reasonable from a societal perspective," Kongo said and added that people should prefer public transport in large cities.
But are bicycles not better for the environment than buses? "From an environmental perspective, it is even better if bicycles are kept in train stations and not transported back and forth," Kongo said. "Even acquiring a bicycle is a cost. That is why they are not given out for free as environmentally friendly vehicles."
Johanna said that scooters also take up a lot of space on trains and they cannot be hanged off hooks. So people take their scooters with them and place them on the aisles, where they also impede on movement. But scooters are free to transport, as are skis and luggage.
"People carry all kinds of stuff with them, I take the train every day," Johanna said. She has never had any issue finding a spot for her bicycle, it has always fit on one of the hooks. Even if the situation might differ from route to route, cycle tickets treat all routes the same.
Kongo said that scooters, luggage and even dogs do not cause as many issues in trains as bicycles do, which is why there is no plan on implementing additional fees for them. But the company is considering monthly tickets for bicycles and making purchases available online.
"Since the tickets are not implemented yet, I would not discuss pricing, but it would likely follow the same scheme as other periodical tickets," Kongo said and added that the primary goal of cycle tickets is to keep bicycles off the trains.
"We have no issues with bicycles in the winter, therefore people find other ways to move around, they have other options. They choose to use bicycles in the summer," Kongo noted.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste