According to a Transport Administration regulation, the total number of kilometers for bus routes in all Estonian counties must be reduced by 2 percent. This could lead to underused county bus routes being closed down.
Currently, passengers can ride for free on the county bus routes of 11 counties. Pärnu County and northern Estonian counties (Harju, Rapla, Lääne-Viru) have not joined the free public transportation scheme. The regulation to reduce the number of total kilometers for routes is valid for all counties, regardless of free or paid transport.
"The regulation is general. We were not given orders on which routes we have to reduce and how to reduce them. It is even a little sad that we also bring in ticket revenue nowadays - ticket revenue was 16 percent of our budget - and that is compared equally to everyone else," said North Estonia Public Transportation Center manager Andrus Nilisk.
"I understand why it is being done, it is the easiest way to achieve cuts, otherwise the cuts for free county routes would have to be considerably greater, but it is how it is," the public transport manager added.
The subsidies for county public transport in next year's state budget are the same as this year - €50 million. To continue services in the same capacity as they are currently, the budget would have had to increase by €5 million.
"In cooperation with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, we have found an additional €2.5 million for public transportation next year. Inflation has been faster, however, this means the number of route kilometers must be assessed and routes need to be optimized, meaning 2 percent in route kilometers," said Transport Administration service director Martin Lengi.
He noted that less popular routes will be the first to go for assessment and shutting some routes down entirely cannot be ruled out.
Pärnu County Public Transportation Center manager Andrus Kärpuk said local municipalities would not prefer to reduce the number of routes before the holidays, but this would mean that routes must be reduced after the holidays to meet year-end goals.
Kärpuk said the government's budget cuts are contradictory to the state mobility development plan, which is currently being drawn up. "We must avoid cutting costs in financially difficult times, because it worsens the service and all the goals linked to public transport," the Pärnu County public transport manager said.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste