People will be forced to pay considerable sums if passenger carrier Elron fails to change its bicycle tickets stance. Cars will become even more dominant in Tallinn and other cities. Taking the bike has been made harder for people once again. Journeys will lengthen and domestic tourism will suffer, Pärtel-Peeter Pere writes.
Taking the train and then a bicycle is a fast, convenient and the most environmentally friendly option. Covering the last few kilometers from the train station to one's door on a bike is a very good way of getting around. It is the way in Western Europe and Northern Europe where people are much more likely to ride a bicycle.
[Passenger rail carrier] Elron decided to start charging people who want to take their bicycle with them 50 percent of their ticket price extra. If that sounds like nothing at first, keep in mind that to commute to work, school or go hiking, people need to take two trips. Sometimes, every workday. For many, this would mean additional expenses of €70 a month.
Elron could have created a reservations system. Or construct bicycle parking lots in (major) stations to make it possible for people to park they bikes conveniently and securely. Work with private sector companies to create city bike rentals or scooters (that would still constitute an additional expense). Instead, the company chose to fine its customers.
Elron's activity hinders bicycle use and a bike ticket one has to pay extra for is a bad call. Elron's policy has a negative impact on people's financial situation, also domestic tourism, efforts to reduce the number of cars and the environment.
True, other countries also have bicycle tickets. Helsinki in Finland does not. Estonians are sure to be more price-sensitive than the Dutch who must also buy a ticket if they want to take their bike on the train. The average salary is also more than double Estonia's. The Dutch take their bikes with them if they want to go hiking, while those with a daily commute often buy two bicycles – one to take home from their local train station and one to take to work in the city.
Parties react to Elron's call
The Social Democratic Party (SDE) was critical of Elron, with Raimond Kaljulaid suggesting the economy minister needs to "sort out this nonsense post haste." The Estonian Greens (Züleyxa Izmailova) wrote that PM Kaja Kallas needs to intervene and set a deadline for user-friendly bicycle infrastructure (including secure bicycle parking lots) and a functional and compatible public transport system to be developed. The two parties also held a protest meeting.
Center Party MEP Yana Toom asked why should bicycle tickets be free of charge, which position was clearly shared by Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas (Center). The Reform Party's Mart Võrklaev, Õnne Pillak and Yoko Alender proposed a reservation system, additional trains and departures and safe bicycle infrastructure.
Representatives of Isamaa also felt that a reservations system should have been created first. Pirko Konsa from Eesti 200 criticized lack of coherent public transport and mobility policy. The Conservative People's Party (EKRE) did not see a problem with the company charging for bicycle tickets.
The problem we need to solve
Let us look at the big picture before arriving at further steps. Why take a bicycle with you on a train?
People need to go from one place to another, commute to school and work. Multimodal mobility was taking the world by storm even before the coronavirus pandemic. For example, combining the use of a bicycle (also, electric scooter) with a train to go to work. Bolt, Tuul and other companies are a part of that micromobility revolution. Trains are part of the solution when they are not part of the problem.
Couldn't the matter be put to bed simply by taking the car instead? Elron's responsibility as a company in a country where we want to protect the environment and where nature occupies a central part in our identity is to offer a service that would attract as many people as possible to choose the train and bicycle combo over a personal car.
We want to live and consume sparingly as a society. Right now, Estonians spends up to 30 percent of their household income on cars. Many prefer to take the train. The latter must be like any other mode of public transport between cities, in the countryside, not to mention in town – rapid, convenient and a serious alternative to the car.
The same goes for bicycles. Bikes form an increasingly common part of urban traffic in Europe, including in the frigid Nordics. Around 10 percent of people take the bicycle in any weather in Finland, the country has the most used city bicycle rental system in the world.
Taking the bike in the winter is up 70 percent in Stockholm. The number of cars in the city is lower than in Tallinn and keeps falling, while municipal efforts are seeing the number of cars grow in Tallinn.
The nature of the problem has been summed up by one of Estonia's foremost mobility experts Mari Jüssi: "The train is also used to cover very short distances, those that could be covered with a bike. The train cannot fulfill that role today as we lack good bicycle infrastructure and safe bicycle parking opportunities in train stations.
Elron has refused to heed criticism. What will happen next? All in all, two things.
Firstly, people will have to pay considerable sums as long as Elron refuses to reverse or change its decision. Cars will continue to take over Tallinn and other cities at an even faster rate. Taking the bicycle has been made harder once again. Journeys will become longer, domestic tourism will suffer.
Secondly, several parties have promised not to stand for it. Recent moves by SDE and the Greens suggest they plan to continue the struggle to see Elron's decision reversed by putting pressure on the company and Economy Minister Taavi Aas. I spoke to head of the Riigikogu Economic Affairs Committee Kristen Michal (Reform) who said that the committee plans to summon Elron and ask how it plans to solve the situation.
Until additional train cars and departures are decided, creating a reservation system should be a feasible task for any company an e-state, including Elron.
Editor: Marcus Turovski