Following the introduction of free public transport on county bus lines in 11 of Estonia's counties, it has been established that passengers taking advantage of the scheme in Tartu County are not permitted to alight in Tartu City.
According to Tõnis Piir, board member of Tartu County public transport centre, this hasn't caused any problems yet, however.
Speaking on ERR's Vikerradio show 'Uudis+' yesterday, Mr. Piir stated that there have long been entry-only busstops in the city, where nobody is supposed to actually disembark from a bus.
There is no actual law preventing someone from leaving a bus at such points, Piir said, although the driver has the right to notify the passenger of the fact.
City residents would take up seats intended for county-wide passengers
The main issue is that if Tartu city residents were allowed to use the County line buses just to travel within the city limits, this would lead to overcrowding on the buses and could prevent those who wish to travel county-wide from so doing, Mr. Piir went on.
This is exacerbated by the fact that whereas in Pärnu, for instance, there is only one regional transport centre which deals with both the city and the surrounding hinterland of Pärnu county, whereas Tartu has two centres and thus previously had different pricing between city transport and county.
There had earlier been discussions aimed at convergence in price ticketing, but in the end the decision was taken to go with free transport on the county lines, Piir said, mainly because conditions were more favourable for the latter [in order to qualify for the full Government transport grant, County administrations were required to introduce free public transport on county buses-ed.] , even if on reflection there might have been a case for spending more time to consider things.
''We've made a decision now, and we have to stick with it,'' Piir went on.
''Hopefully the decision to introduce free transport for residents of Tartu County on county line buses will benefit the people living here,'' he went on.
More study needed
However, Tartu County is to conduct analysis on passenger numbers before rolling out the finalized county lines network, despite the free transport provision in most of Estonia's counties having started on 1 July.
Moreover more planning is needed to ensure an efficient County line network and to avoid things like lengthy transfers for passengers, Mr. Piir said, and time is needed to reach this optimisation.
Early indications were good, however, according to Mr. Piir and despite teething problems with regard to automated card readers and the like, after the transition to free transport.
Mr. Piir said he was unaware of any complaints about the new scheme, and that in any case there could be no turning back now.
''I believe it would be unfair to passengers and the populace as a whole to return to the former status quo [ie. paid transport] six months from now, and I don't believe that there will be any volte face on this,' he said, pointing out that so far as the Estonian Road Administration is concerned, the operation of bus traffic in the county is good for the rest of the year.
Editor: Andrew Whyte
Source: ERR Uudised