Responding to a call by regional public transport centers to postpone the implementation of the new public transport regulation by three months, Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications Kadri Simson (Center) said that the appeal includes demands which have already been met and that the centers were given enough time to implement changes.
Representatives of the regional public transport centers, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa Municipalities as well as the City of Tartu proposed on Tuesday to postpone the entry into force of the new regulation by three months, as the changes necessary for the switch to free bus transport cannot be implemented in time for the current July 1 deadline.
"Today's address by the public transport centers to the minister and the Estonian Road Administration contains several demands that have been met already," stated a comment published by Simson. "The existing regulation provides all public transport centers with the opportunity to continue with the present system and discount fares. In other words, the centers are asking for the opportunity to continue with the present system at least for the time being, and this is permitted. If a [transport] center wants to continue with the present system for three months, it is up to them to do so. The regulation does not prohibit any of the opportunities that currently exist."
According to Simson, however, it was incorrect to say that too little time has been allowed to discuss the matter, as the plan to start offering free public transport within counties was endorsed in the government's action plan in December, additional funding for this in the amount of €13.6 million was allocated in the 2018 state budget, and the Estonian Road Administration is in constant contact with the centers, which took over the responsibility of organizing public transport at the beginning of the year, via representatives of the Estonian Road Administration that sit on the boards of the regional public transport centers.
"In the letter, the public transport centers are demanding the right to determine fares," the minister continued. "Let me remind you that previously, the county governments had to justify the fares in force in the county to the Estonian Road Administration; now the same duty rests with the public transport center. The new regulation does not change the requirement to justify the fares before the Estonian Road Administration, nor will the public transport centers have the sole discretion to determine fares in the future."
Simson also noted that the government has made available €3.3 million in additional funding to add departures on exiting routes, and that the ministry will not interfere in matters concerning the reorganization of the route network, schedules, and additional departures.
According to the minister, the regulation is not being handed to public transport centers as a "take it or leave it" matter; the centers are free to choose between making public transport free, reducing fares, or keeping the current fares.
"Regardless of what choice a county makes when it comes to fares, the centers will definitely get the money meant for the addition of departures, which amounts to €3.3 million," she said, adding that this was a no-lose situation.
Editor: Aili Vahtla