Buying bus tickets online increasingly complicated

Lux Express coaches at Tallinn Bus Station.
Lux Express coaches at Tallinn Bus Station. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Purchasing bus tickets in advance has gotten more complicated as coach operators use a variety of different sales platforms. The largest such portal Tpilet does not have tickets for smaller carriers. While bus operators would like to see a single nationwide website for ticket sales, no such plans currently exist.

As buses are a popular mode of transport in the summer, it is sensible to try and buy a ticket in advance online. The timetable on the Tpilet website has a bus going from Kanama to Pärnu three times a day, while visitors of the site cannot use it to buy tickets for these departures, turning catching a bus into a lottery.

Andrei Mändla, executive manager for carrier GoBus, said that the company only uses Tpilet to sell tickets for initial boarding at the bus station, while those getting on at an intermediate stop can use Ridango and German company Flixbus' sites to buy tickets. The reason why GoBus and other smaller carriers do not offer their tickets on Tpilet, which is owned by competitor Mootor Grupp, is prosaic.

"Their service fees are quite hefty. There's nothing for it. We have to pay to use platforms, while we pay the most for Tpilet. Prices have also gone up recently. It is all a little confidential but there was a hike of a few percent," Mändla said.

The executive said that there is no getting around offering tickets for the initial departure through Tpilet as that is what bus stations use and because Estonians are used to buying their tickets at the station.

"There is another nuance on top of their cut on ticket sales, which is a bit of a business secret. But the more we handle our sales through our competition, the better their overview of our passenger figures," Mändla said.

But Airika Aruksaar, head of Tpilet, said that the site's fees are lower than the average in the Baltics, Finland and Sweden.

"Perhaps there is little economic incentive for carriers to offer intermediary stop tickets through us, while tickets from the first stop to the last are usually offered through Tpilet," she said.

Aruksaar refuted claims according to which carriers could learn competitors' passenger figures through the firm.

"We do not see the whole database, the historical data it holds. We cannot process all that metadata. This is handled by a separate company in the group [Mootor Grupp] called Turnit, while we have never accessed confidential or sensitive information there," Aruksaar said.

Tpilet is owned by Mootor Grupp that also operates Estonia's larger bus stations and long-distance lines market leader Lux Express. The Estonian Competition Authority admits that Mootor Grupp controls a very big part of the market, while vertical integration is not illegal in Estonia. The watchdog has spent years on a control action involving the company.

"We are currently looking into the conditions of smaller operators' access to the [Tpilet] system, and they are not the most flexible. They are time-consuming and require changes made by hand," said Juhan Põldroos, head of the authority's supervision department.

Smaller bus companies are hoping for upcoming changes to the public transport information portal to include a universal and independent ticket sales system, while the Ministry of Regional Affairs has no such plans currently.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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