Service providers consider demand-responsive transport to be the way forward, but have yet to figure out how to finance the new model sustainably. They hope to find some answers based on pilot testing slated to begin in Harju County this fall.
Põhja-Eesti Public Transport Centre (PEÜTK) hopes to begin testing out demand-responsive transport (DRT) in a few municipalities in Harju County starting this fall.
"Let's put it this way — this is like a taxi service for a market failure region," explained Andrus Nilisk, CEO of PEÜTK. "You order a vehicle to come pick you up when you need a ride, and you can do so when you need it."
Nilisk added that such a service should be integrated into the public transport network three to five years from now.
"But we're currently foolish in the sense that we don't know how it functions, how it works," he continued. "The pilot projects that have been conducted in Estonia — in Saaremaa, Tartu and Pärnu County — have been free. We're not interested in going to do this for free."
The goal is to determine how much a rider is willing to pay for a ticket. Initially, however, municipalities will have to shoulder the costs of the pilot testing themselves.
"The cost of bringing one car onto the market is some €6,000-7,000," Nilisk said. "If the municipalities are prepared to do that, then we can discuss this. Everything earned back via ticket revenues will make it cheaper for the municipality. As we're lacking in general knowledge, then it would be better to take the full cost into consideration, and the you can recoup from there."
Association of Cities and Municipalities adviser Kalle Toomet said that testing conducted in Saaremaa has likewise indicated that the financing of DRT remains a pending issue.
"The results were positive, but the sustainability [of DRT] is still in question," Toomet said. "People often ask why it isn't continued if there are orders. People's wallets and the price of the service are certainly going to start playing a role here. Local governments are actually saying that they themselves cannot sustain such a model."
He nonetheless acknowledged that DRT is a necessary service on the Estonian mainland as well. Mihkel Mäeker, head of the Transport Administration's Public Transport Department, agrees, however the transport authority itself is likewise still unclear on how to fund such a service.
"Based on the Saaremaa example, are people who were able to use this service for free willing to continue using it for a fee?" Mäeker asked. "This is a very good question, and one we hope will be answered by the PEÜTK pilot project."
The pilot project in Saaremaa is scheduled to conclude this summer. According to current plans, Harju County intends to launch its own DRT pilot program this fall and test its services for a period of two years.
Editor: Aili Vahtla