In just a few weeks, county bus service fares will be reinstated for working age adults in most parts of the country. Estonia's regional transport centers, however, don't believe the anticipated additional ticket revenue will translate into new bus routes or additional departures.
Even after fares return on January 22, riders under the age of 19, over the age of 63 as well as who are designated disabled or as having partial or no ability to work will continue to be able to ride for free on county buses.
Thus, only a fraction of riders will actually have to start buying €1.50 single-trip fares or €25 monthly passes.
"It's estimated that it may be around 17 percent," said Tartu County Public Transport Center (TÜTK) director Maikl Aunapuu. "But we don't know the exact figures; we'll find out more exactly once ticket sales begin. County bus route riders comprise mainly students and pensioners, and they'll all be continuing to ride for free."
Sergei is one person who rides the county bus almost daily – to work in Tartu in the morning and back.
"I haven't taken it that seriously yet," he admitted, adding that €3 a day isn't too bad for him.
Anneli, meanwhile, said that since she doesn't have a car, she'll be continuing to take the bus even after fares return.
"I actually have a car too; I take the bus into town – four times a week," said Raivo, noting that he'll have to calculate when he might be better off driving instead. "By myself then by bus, but if with several people then by car."
TÜTK even opened a new hotline to field all the questions people have about the upcoming changes. Thus far, feedback in Jõgeva County can be divided into two categories.
"There are those for whom public transport going paid [again] actually stings, and hard – for whom even buying that €25 monthly pass is still a significant outlay," described Jõgeva County Public Transport Centre board member Kristjan Noormägi.
"On the other hand, there are people whose hopes have now been inflated," Noormägi continued. "They've actually come right up and said, 'Very good that public transport will be paid – then we'll get that many more routes."
No such agreement exists, however, that fare revenues would be put toward developing the service.
"As far as we know, the state budget is still short of money for the organization of public transport," Aunapuu said. "In our negotiations with the ministry, we were provided with the input that we can't open a single new route, or add additional departures to existing routes either. Unfortunately, at least this year, we can't expect any increase in route capacity."
In Southeastern Estonia, public transport will nonetheless remain free in Võru and Põlva counties through April – until new buses equipped with ticketing machines arrive.
Editor: Aili Vahtla