Altogether 37% of Estonian residents between the ages of 15-74 support the public regional transport plan of Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Kadri Simson (Centre), including just one quarter of residents of Estonia's rural settlements, daily Postimees reports.
The greatest support for the plan was unexpectedly recorded among residents of Tallinn, foreigners and school and university students, while the target demographic, i.e. people living in the countryside, were predominantly against the plan altgether. Altogether 57% of rural residents do not support public transport, while just a quarter are in favor of it, it appears from the results of a survey commissioned by Postimees and conducted by Kantar Emor last week.
According to Aivar Voog, survey manager at Kantar Emor, the fact that support for free transport is among the lowest among rural people indicates that the target group likely does not consider the initiative to be very beneficial. There may be multiple reasons for this: for example, people fear a drop in quality, or are used to using personal means of transport for getting around.
"The main thing is that people in rural areas do not use that much public transport themselves, and likely feel that it will not benefit them," Voog said. "If they travel by public transport so rarely, then apparently it is not such a significant expense for them."
City residents biggest supporters of free public transport
However, several distinctive patterns emerge from the survey. For example, it appears that the main stronghold of those supporting free regional transport is Tallinn and other larger cities that will not actually benefit at all from free regional public transport.
"Residents of Tallinn have after all experienced free transport and seen that it being free has not reduced its value of use," Voog noted. "Secondly, there are many Centre Party voters and people whose first language is not Estonian in Tallinn, who predominantly support free transport." The same pattern appears in the case of party support: the free transport initiative is considered a positive one predominantly by Centre Party voters.
At the same time, it cannot be said that the supporters consist only of the Centre Party's usual target demographics, i.e. non-ethnic Estonians and the elderly. Other significant supporters of the initiative include school and university students, approximately half of whom consider free transport to be necessary. Voog noted that this once again alluded to personal experience.
"The youth are frequent public transport users and school transport is still free in the countryside," he noted. "They use public transport frequently and their income is not high. They would see concrete benefits from free transport."
Antsla councilmember: Get buses running, then we'll talk
Kurmet Müürsepp, a member of the management board of the Association of Municipalities of Estonia, chairman of Antsla Municipal Council and member of Pro Patria, said that he was not really surprised by the results of the survey. Even though he has come across both supporters and detractors of the plan in the countryside, he found that criticism there was rooted in rural residents' experiences.
"For example, I live in Antsla Municipality, and there are areas here where buses do not run at all," Müürsepp said. "And if people are then asked if they support free transport, what are they supposed to say? Get buses running and then we will talk."
Editor: Aili Vahtla