Bus travel returning to pre-pandemic levels

Lux Express
Lux Express Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The number of passengers traveling by bus is returning to levels last seen before the coronavirus pandemic. An uptick has been registered on both domestic and international routes.

At the end of April, international bus company Lux Express increased its number of departures to Riga from Tallinn to 12 per day. Compared to last March, there has been a 61 percent increase in passengers.

"We have increased the number of departures to offer passengers more choice and demand has also increased. The bus is cheaper, more environmentally friendly, and makes better use of time. It might take half an hour less to get to Riga by car, but you can have four hours to yourself on the bus," said Ingmar Roos, the business manager of Lux Express Estonia.

During the pandemic, people preferred to travel in private cars to reduce the risk of infection, Roos said.

"[But] Now for about a year and a half, they have started to get back on the bus, hence the increase.," he said, adding capacity is approximately 90 percent.

Riga skyline. Source: Rainhard Wiesinger / Pixabay

"Ideally we would have 15 departures a day to Riga. The main issue is to cover the day evenly with departures, but the demand is not quite there yet," he said.

Ticket prices have also increased by 10-15 percent on Baltic routes over the last year, Roos said.

In total, taking all bus operators into account, there are almost 20 trips from Tallinn to Riga every day.

Drivers switching to buses to beat inflation

There has also been an uptick in the number of people riding domestic buses.

Kersten Kattai, CEO of the Automobile Companies Association NGO, said passenger volume has almost returned to 2019's level.

"One of the reasons, apart from the disappearance of corona restrictions, is certainly the higher cost of fuel, which makes the use of private cars more expensive and has made people look towards public transport," she said.

A county bus that provides free (Estonian: Tasuta) public transport at Värska Bus Station. Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

The number of buses has risen "continuously" and the introduction of free public transport in 2018 led to an increase, even if it was not seen immediately, she said, listing additional reasons for the upswing.  

But city buses still have some way to go.

"One reason here is remote work, people are still working from home. The second is the falling level of validation, it is believed that about a third of journeys remain unvalidated," Kattai said.

Data from Tallinn Transport requested by ERR News last month show passenger numbers had not recovered last year. The company also pointed out many people do not validate their journeys.

Last year, buses drove an estimated 122 million journeys which was 25 percent more than in 2021, data from Statistics Estonia shows. The number of passengers rose on all modes of public transport in 2022.


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Editor: Mari Peegel, Helen Wright

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