County bus lines seek support, fear service cuts, amid rising fuel prices

Passengers boarding a county bus-line service.
Passengers boarding a county bus-line service. Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

County bus lines in Estonia are struggling to keep services going at the set ticket prices, amid rising fuel prices, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Monday, with some lines threatening to halt services if the situation does not improve.

County bus lines as the name suggest run between towns, as opposed to the larger cities' own public transport services, or the longer-distance commercial bus lines such as Lux Express.

However the head of one private sector firm, Jüri Etverk, CEO of Go Group, along with Andrus Nilisk of the Põhja-Eesti Public Transport Center, which covers Harju County and operates in conjunction with local government, say that cutting routes is not reasonable, arguing demand for public transport rises as fuel becomes more expensive.

Etverk said: "Since March, the number of passengers has increased almost to the level of 2019, depending on the region, and it is rather a matter that we may have to start adding more trips."

The €878-million supplementary budget issued last month in response to the deteriorating international security situation did not contain any funds aimed at resolving the matter, AK reported; the Transport Administration (Transpordiamet) has pledged to find the money to make up the shortfall, however.

In March, the board put that figure at €3 million, while a month alter it had risen to €4.5 million, though neither figure was accepted so far as the supplementary budget went.

Martin Lengi, the agency's director of mobility planning, said: "The request for additional funding that we submitted was 4.5 million.

"This request was not approved. However, we have found funds for such volume from internal funds, timing of our investments, as well as operating expenses and other expenses," Lengi said, adding a million in the budget has already been found, while indexation will boost the agency's payments to carriers in July.

The overall number of passengers is at around pre-Covid levels now, Lengi added, though even this does not mean that no services will be suspended, while more will be clear in the second half of the year.

Jüri Etverk said however that the current indexation procedure should be reviewed, given the rise in fuel prices.

The picture is made more complex by variations in the status of free transport, which in some counties (such as Lääne County) is free to all, though the area is seeing little uptake, whereas in others – Harju, Rapla and Lääne-Viru counties, Andrus Nilisk said – uptake is highest, even though only minors and the elderly can travel for free on these routes.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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