Regional affairs minister: Free county public transport to end next year

County bus service from Viljandi Bus Station. March 24, 2023.
County bus service from Viljandi Bus Station. March 24, 2023. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

Current plans would see a single county lines ticket cost €1.5 and be good for 90 minutes once free county-level public transport ends in Estonia from January 1, Minister of Regional Affairs Madis Kallas said. Not all changes are set yet, with final clarity expected 60 days before the new year.

Minister of Regional Affairs Madis Kallas told ERR that passengers will once again need to buy tickets from January 1 next year, and that he presently sees no obstacles to returning to a ticketed public transport system.

Current plans would retain free rides for children and young people up to the age of 19, as well as everyone over 63.

Kallas said that a single ticket could cost €1.5 and be good for 90 minutes, while monthly tickets could run €20-25 and be without regional restrictions.

The minister stressed, however, that all of these matters are subject to future deliberations, and the ministry is waiting for proposals from county public transport centers.

Returning to ticket sales will not deliver a sharp revenue boost

Public transport is not currently free in all parts of Estonia, with people in Pärnu, for example, still forced to buy a ticket. However, starting from next year, all regions should switch to the new harmonized tickets system.

Kallas pointed out that fewer than 20 percent of the population uses county coaches, meaning that revenue from ticket sales will likely not exceed €3-5 million.

Public transport will be allocated an extra €10 million from the state budget next year, mainly to offer more departures, improve the lines network and investments.

"That is the deal. It is not a case of charging for tickets and then leaving people with the same old network. /.../ Public transport must also improve," the minister said.

Major change to land in 2025

Kallas said people should not expect all changes to take effect from January 1. The process will take time and a part of changes will not land before fall or winter.

"In the grand scheme of things, we want to launch a better public transport service in cooperation with public transport centers in 2025."

He said that the plans also include a system of real-time public transport monitoring.

The state's contribution will not be reduced and will continue to be the main source of public transport funding. Subsidies currently amount to €70-80 million, while the needs of the system are greater still.

Changes to also bring new expenses

Kristjan Noormägi, head of NGO Jõgeva County Public Transport Center, said that in order to bring the changes into effect, centers will need new ticket sales systems.

Noormägi finds that potential revenue from tickets will have relatively little effect, and that state subsidies will remain absolutely necessary for public transport.

"We need to ensure ways of getting around in areas where operating coaches will never make financial sense. We need to consider the social aspect and see the people who need the service behind the numbers," he said.

The public transport head said that the government's extra €10 million for county public transport will be a great help if spent on investments and improving the lines network.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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