According to Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Kadri Simson (Center), the government coalition has reached an agreement that it will be up to Estonia's public transport centers to decide whether or not they wish to offer free public transport.
According to Simson, funding for offering free public transport on state-subsidized county bus routes is already earmarked in the state budget, reported ETV news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera."
"Currently, this [item] receives €22 million in subsidies; next year, it will receive €34.8 million," she noted. "This is enough to cover ticket sales, this is enough to increase the frequency on these routes, and this is enough to likewise support these same public transport centers."
Asked whether the ruling coalition had reached an agreement regarding free bus transport, Simson responded that, based on the agreement, it will be up to the public transport centers themselves to decide whether they wish to offer free public transport and use funding on this or not.
"I personally believe that each public transport center will be happy to be able to use up this money," she added, noting that if a public transport center elects to accept only money meant for increasing route frequency, it will leave funds earmarked for offering free transport untouched.
Metsoja: Let local governments make public transport decisions
Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) deputy chairman Andres Metsoja said that each coalition party clearly understands that public transport and the handling of its network are crucial matters.
"Public transport is very nuanced," he said. "There are state subsidies, local governments' own contributions, the ticket sales component as well as separate discounts for students and seniors. Our clear positions remains that local governments can and must be able to decide what is the best means of organizing public transport in the counties."
Metsoja also noted that public transport centers are being established precisely for the purpose of bringing the organization of public transport to the people on a local level.
According to Economic Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu chairman Sven Sester (IRL), public transport centers should be able to decide for themselves how to organize public transport.
"Actually, it should be the public transport centers' decision whether they want to lower ticket prices or establish new routes with this money," Sester said. "This is still ultimately within the local government's authority and for them to decide."
Economic Affairs Committe Toomas Kivimägi (Reform) agreed that the organization of the county bus network should be in the hands of the public transport centers, however he recognized that the establishment of free bus routes would violate the business principle of equal treatment.
"Both commercial bus routes and [passenger rail operator] Elron essentially perform the functions of county public transport — in part, naturally," Kivimägi noted. "If so-called state buses come, where you don't have to pay to ride, then Elron and commercial bus line ticket sales will surely decrease to some degree as a result, and some commercial routes already operating on the brink will be discontinued as a result."
Editor: Aili Vahtla