Yesterday two ERR journalists, Merit Maarits and Anette Parksepp, decided to put the new free transport in most of Estonia's counties to the test by seeing if they could travel round the country, legally, without having to buy a single ticket. We catch up with them at the end of day one.
The first free bus the two managed to catch was from the small town of Taebla in Lääne County, which took them to Haapsalu on the west coast of Estonia. The bus was relatively modern, and only half-full, and whilst without free WiFi, they were able to charge their phones up at least. Apparently there was no actual indication on or inside the bus that free travel was possible.
The introduction of the free public transport in 11 of the 15 counties in Estonia has not been without confusion, as Merit and Anette found out for themselves in the second stage of the journey yesterday. They caught a smaller minibus-type vehicle to Lihula, in western Estonia, which actually cost Anette one euro but which ended up being free for Merit. The latter's green travel card was accepted as having sufficient funds on it, even though it apparently did not.*
Furthermore the particular bus was signed as being free only for under 20s and over 62s, not for all.
Conversations in Lihula with local residents whilst waiting two hours for a bus to Pärnu, including regular bus users, senior citizens etc. didn't shed much light on the practical workings of the new scheme either.
On catching the next bus, to Pärnu city, southwestern Estonia, Merit decided to try and game the system again by swiping a green card with insufficient credit, but that time the scanner picked up that fact and she was charged one euro for an 'hour's ticket'. Since the journey to Pärnu city lasted longer than an hour, she would have been hoboing the latter part of the journey, but seemingly the bus driver also wasn't sure how the new rules worked.
Thus the two travellers reached Pärnu city yesterday evening, having taken a few buses that day, all of which theoretically should have been free, but cost a few euros in practice.
This morning, Tuesday, they headed to Viljandi; with Merit managing to lose her ill-fated green card, she was able to pick up a Pärnu County card which, apart from being a different colour (blue) from the Tallinn one is apparently still valid in Tallinn city.
You can follow the journey on the live blog (in Estonian) here.
*Tallinn City has been running free transport for residents for several years now. Travellers must still swipe their green Tallinn city transport card on entering a bus, tram or trolleybus, and the card still needs to be loaded up with credit when travelling outside the city limits since Harju County, where Tallinn is located, has opted out of the new free county bus travel scheme. Non-residents, foreign tourists etc. will need to credit their card, which can be purchased at kiosks and post offices, even for travel within Tallinn city. The county lines buses are reportedly free for all, not just residents, when obtaining a card, though the workings of this are far from clear as noted above; Tartu city, for instance, still charges for public transport tickets even though Tartu County is part of the free network.
Editor: Andrew Whyte