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New transport centre bill could put end to free bus lines scheme

"Free of charge": A new bill threatens Simson's free county bus lines scheme. Source: ERR

A bill to be discussed in the Riigikogu this autumn could turn the just recently introduced free county bus lines scheme on its head. Initiated by Pro Patria/Isamaa, the bill calls for the national parliament to leave it to county transport centres to decide how to arrange their ticket pricing policy.

On 1 July a directive of Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Kadri Simson (Centre) entered into effect: it made bus lines in Estonia's counties free of charge for residents wherever the county transport centre decided to join the scheme. 11 of them did.

The choice the centres currently have is to either make lines free, or continue under the previous policy, which saw some lines subsidised, and others not.

If Pro Patria gets its way, all of the public transport centres will get complete freedom in the way they arrange their pricing policy. They will receive the subsidies allocated to their region in full, and decide themselves how to use the money.

Free bus lines mostly popular, but inconvenient in some places

The free bus lines were well received, but there were a few complaints as well, as not all of Estonia's transport centres joined the scheme, and this is creating problems.

For instance, while Tartu County joined and now has free local bus lines, the city of Tartu didn't. Buses coming into the city from the surrounding areas now have the problem that their passengers get a free ride by law if they are county residents, but that they are not allowed to disembark on city territory.

This literally means that under the new scheme, someone getting on a bus in Ilmatsalu and heading to Tartu will have to leave the county bus before it enters the city, or otherwise risk a fine by staying on and getting off inside the city limits.

Meanwhile, entry-only bus stops are nothing new. There have long been entry-only stops, where nobody is supposed to actually disembark. There is no actual law preventing someone from leaving a bus at such points, although the driver has the right to notify the passenger of the fact.

The main issue so far was 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.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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