According to Estonian Minister of Regional and Rural Affairs Madis Kallas (SDE), the plan to abolish free regional public transport will not come into effect before the beginning of next year. At the same time, the number of passengers using county bus routes is increasing rapidly.
One of the objectives set out in the Estonia government's coalition agreement is to implement a mobility reform. This involves putting an end to free regional public transport and the development of demand-based mobility.
Although the issue previously fell under the remit of the Ministry of Economics and Communications, Laura Laaster, head of the ministry's public relations department, told ERR that from June responsibility will be handed over to the newly formed Ministry of Regional and Rural Affairs.
According to Minister of Regional and Rural Affairs Madis Kallas (SDE), the plan to introduce fares for passengers using regional bus routes remains in place.
"At the moment, I dare say that we are on schedule with the plan and are actively communicating with public transport operators," he said. "According to the plan, the fares could be introduced on county buses at the start of 2024 at the earliest, as the transition requires public transport operators to make some technical preparations."
The number of people using public transport in Estonia fell sharply during the coronavirus pandemic, as those who were able to travel by car instead, did so, to reduce the risk of infection. However, according to Erki Varma, communications expert at the Estonian Transport Administration (Transpordiamet), the situation has now changed.
In the first quarter (Q1) of 2023, the number of passengers using public transport increased by 21 percent to 5.9 million from 4.9 million in Q1 2022. There were a total of 22.2 million public transport passengers last year.
"Rural public transport routes that were cancelled during the coronavirus period have now largely been restored. Several of those commercial lines, which were closed have been partially replaced by long-distance public lines," Varma added.
Although fares will be introduced on rural bus routes for the general public, the government still plans to enable the elderly, children and people with disabilities to travel free of charge.
Editor: Michael Cole