The board of the Union of Harju County Municipalities on Wednesday discussed the possibility of implementing free public transport in the county and unanimously decided not to implement it, regional paper Harju Elu reported.
"If buses start carrying passengers for free and become overburdened, where can additional money be found for additional routes?" Harju County Public Transport Centre and Jõelähtme municipal mayor Andrus Umboja told the paper. "The expense for compensating commercial routes alone is €5 million." According to Umboja, if €3 million from the state budget is meant to be spent on free transport across the country, then the full amount could be spent solely in Harju County and it would still be €2 million short.
"A free bus ride also poses an ethical problem: should buses start running for free, there will be a strong inequality toward those citizens who use trains," Umboja said.
According to Vello Jõgisoo, head of the North Estonian Public Transport Center, Harju County is planning on implementing free public transport for students and the elderly in the future.
Rapla county follows suit
Rapla county, which borders Harju county and lies to its south, has also announced that it won't be rolling out free public transport on its own county bus routes, preferring a common ticket system for trains and buses and an expansion of the network and number of services on existing lines.
This would be achieved using money allocated to the counties for the organization of their public transport, believes the extended board of the Association of Municipalities of Rapla county (Raplamaa Omavalitsuste Liidu).
Since the money earmarked from central government is not sufficient to do this, the shortfall should be made up with ticket revenue (in any case central government has deemed it necessary to implement free or discounted public transport as a quid pro quo for the counties to receive the full amount of allocated funds).
Raplamaa does plan to discount or even make free bus journeys for some types of passengers including schoolchildren and pensioners, but not a wholesale introduction of free public transport for residents as has existed in Tallinn for several years.
The association rather takes a holistic view of the county public transport system, incorporating not only bus services subsidized by the municipalities but also commerical operators and train services as well, bringing in a common state-of-the-art ticketing system harmonized with that of neighbouring Harju county and Tallinn city.
Late last month, Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Kadri Simson (Center) signed a ticket price regulation that, beginning in July, will allow for either ticket prices on county bus lines to remain at the same rate or for free public transport to be introduced. Should local pulic transport centers decide not to discount ticket prices or offer free transport on county bus lines beginning this summer, they will partly miss out on additional funding from the state budget meant to be allocated for county public transport.
To date, the Southeastern Public Transport Center, repsonsible for organizing the public transport of Võru and Põlva Counties, as well as Saaremaa Municipality have decided to implement free public transport.
Editor: Aili Vahtla