Sebe, Lux Express seek €2 million state compensation over free transport
The parent company of Estonian bus lines Sebe and Lux Express is seeking two million euros in compensation for lost revenue over the past six years, following a state requirement that the company provide free transport to preschoolers and disabled people being adjudged to be illegal.
Other bus line operators may also receive compensation.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that the Estonian state should not have obliged bus companies to transport preschoolers and disabled people free of charge.
Lux Express, locked in legal battles with the Estonian state for several years, has now calculated the compensation it wishes to receive, to a total of €2 million for a six-year period.
Lux Express board member Ingmar Roos said: "We examined our own data and tried to derive a figure which takes into account if Lux Express had voluntarily given some kind of discount to young people, the elderly, perhaps even preschoolers, and which also takes into account the fact that if passengers had had to pay for a ticket in all cases, then they would be a little fewer in number."
This calculation, in the fall in the number of passengers, can derive also from the free bus ride experiment used on county lines from 2018, where a free ride brought a certain rise in passenger numbers.
The bus company and the Ministry of Economy were supposed to have reached an agreement on the compensation amount by November 25, but the ministry hired an auditing company to check Lux Express' proposed solution in the meantime.
Head of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure's road and rail department, Ain Tatter, said: "When calculating this level of compensation, you have to compare it with a situation where the transport obligation did not exist; in other words, had there been full ticket prices, many passengers likely would not have used the service, for example, and would have traveled with [rail carrier] Elron, if they had traveled at all."
Ingmar Roos said that the free bus ride situation had been "illegal", while the free public transport on county lines scheme was the "last straw."
Sebe and Lux Express' holding company operates around half the entire Estonian inter-city and county bus market, though, according to Tatter, compensation will also paid to all other competitor bus companies, who similarly had had to install the free transport scheme, on the same basis.
The ECJ ruling will also mean that Estonian domestic legislation will need to be amended, to bring it in line with EU law and remove an entry which says the state need not provide compensation when ordering free transport for certain demographic groups.
This also affects the reimbursement period, Tatter said; in other words, bus companies are still obliged to provide the transport for free, and compensation pre-legislation amendment will need to be further calculated.
This amendment will also clarify whether the free transport to preschoolers and disabled people will remain in place going forward, Tatter added.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael
Source: Aktuaalne kaamera