Authorities have asked for an additional €4.5 million to continue to subsidize free public transport, where it is available in Estonia, in the wake of rising fuel costs.
The funds have been requested by the Transport Board (Transpordiamet) from a supplementary budget passed a week ago, and to be implemented following the deteriorated international security situation as well as the rising cost of living.
Economic affairs minister Taavi Aas (Center) says that free public transport where it is provided at its current level – for instance on bus lines in many of Estonia's 15 counties – will continue, while solutions to the rising costs will be sought.
Aas said: "Whether and how much is necessary and possible to cover the additional needs at the expense of internal resources or the rescheduling of various investments. Secondly, it cannot be denied that at some point there may be a need to revise the route network."
The costs are not among the entries in the draft supplementary budget, as things stand, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Monday.
Andrus Nilisk, who heads up public transport in north-western Estonia, cast doubt on the provision of free public transport without additional support – of close to €2 million, i.e. nearly half the national total.
Nilisk told AK that: "Certainly not to the same extent. If we look at the change in input prices, we are missing about €1.9 million today, due to the increase in fuel prices alone," he said.
Cutting less-used bus routes, which number around 60, could save most of the above figure, Nilisk told ERR, while another option would be to reduce the operations of the costliest routes.
That aside, either re-imposing fares or running services until they can no longer be maintained were the likely outcomes, he added.
The economic affairs ministry had no comment to ERR on Monday on the matter.
The government signed off on the €730-million supplementary budget last Tuesday. The bill must pass a Riigikogu vote.
Free transport on many of Estonia's county, i.e. largely rural, lines have been on offer for nearly four years now, while in Tallinn free public transport for all residents has been in place for close to a decade.
Editor: Andrew Whyte