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Taking the bus to become 20 percent more expensive than planned in spring

Tartu County is one of many across Estonia to offer free public transport on county bus lines, a service soon coming to an end.
Tartu County is one of many across Estonia to offer free public transport on county bus lines, a service soon coming to an end. Source: Anette Parksepp/ERR

Free rides on county lines will end from January 2024 and it turns out that taking the local bus will cost a fifth more than what was initially planned. At first, free rides will be retained for young people and the elderly, while Minister of Regional Affairs Madis Kallas does not rule out changes there too.

There are good news and bad news for people who regularly take the bus. The bad news is that a monthly bus pass will cost around 20 percent more than was initially planned once free rides end next year, while the good news is that people commuting between different counties will not have to buy two separate passes.

"The minimum price will be €1.50 for a 90-minute ticket, which grows to €2 when bought on the bus, while a monthly pass will run people at least €25 and can be used in whichever part of the country. The latter is the greatest change and will likely apply to all counties from January 2," Regional Minister Madis Kallas told ERR.

This spring, a price of €20 was proposed for the monthly county coach pass. The new and higher price is said to have been the initiative of public transport centers.

"It was the wish of public transport centers to avoid punishing people who live in a different county by having a common system and ignoring county borders," said Andres Ruubas, head of the ministry's public transport department.

Free rides will remain available for people under 20 and over 63 years of age.

"I'm not saying the system will be exactly as described here as some changes are still possible," Kallas said.

The government hopes to raise €6-8 million from restoring tickets (free rides were not offered in all counties – ed.) all of which will be invested in county-level public transport. But Kallas said that the money could move from one county to another.

"We forecast a lower investment need in areas that have a lot more passengers and, therefore, a lot more ticket revenue in 2024 and 2025. At the same time, we have areas were ticket sales are modest but where we definitely need to launch new lines."

While the government has paid lower subsidies to those public transport centers that have been selling tickets until now, the minister promised this will no longer be the case from next year. At the same time, Maikl Aunapuu, head of the Tartu Public Transport Center, said that the center will not be seeing ticket revenue, while every ticket it sells will lower its subsidy sum.

"We have been told to retain our current schedule compared to this year, meaning that we cannot add lines, Aunapuu said.

"The aim of reintroducing tickets is first and foremost to reduce the deficit in the subsidies budget," Andres Ruubas explained.

Bigger changes should land in the next few years as the ministry has commissioned an analysis of how best to organize and finance public transport in Estonia, which it expects to take delivery of in March.

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Editor: Barbara Oja, Marcus Turovski

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