Estonian passenger rail operator Elron announced on Monday that it would be banning all bikes from its more popular departures on certain routes on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during the summer season. In a public letter penned in response, writer, theater critic and bike rider Andres Keil calls on Elron to consider the effects of its bike ban on regular Estonian residents, as well as consider more viable solutions to the overcrowding issue.
I'm writing to you out of concern, publicly. You decided to ban people from bringing their bikes on the train on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during summer. This is a terrible idea — for several reasons. I'll name a few.
Fresh air and freedom
Dear Elron, imagine a family — mother, father, nine-year-old sister, seven-year-old brother.
A few times a year, on Saturday morning they'll put on their helmets and take the train a few stops somewhere so they can bike around all day in the woods and out in the countryside. Maybe bike all the way to the stop after the next, and then head home from there in the evening. On the train.
They don't have a country home; even their grandparents all live in the city. The rest of the year, they keep their bikes in their designated storage locker in the basement of their building, handlebars and saddles all tangled up.
But now they won't be able to do that anymore. They won't be able to spend that quality time outdoors together as a family. Yes, dear Elron, I'm talking about public health.
I'm talking about instilling good, active habits in people, and about fresh air and freedom. The feeling of freedom you get riding along a road through the forest, not the word "freedom" as it is mentioned in history textbooks or on the lips of an official.
Or, dear Elron, imagine a spunky, modern married couple in their 70s. Who live in, let's say, Jõgeva. They have three children, all of whom have families of their own. Their daughter Triin lives in Tabasalu, their son Lennart in Lasnamäe, and their son Mihkel on the far side of Mustamäe, somewhere between Nõmme and Männiku.
Our spunky married couple takes the train from Jõgeva around noon on Friday, and arrives in Lasnamäe just as Lennart and his family themselves have returned home. On Saturday morning, the entire family hops on their bikes in various parts of Tallinn and meet up at the zoo.
Our couple then bikes back to Tabasalu together with Triin's family, and from there on to Mustamäe on Sunday morning before heading back to Baltic Station to catch the train back to Jõgeva.
What a busy and active weekend! And three generations were able to get together. And everyone was able to stay active. No taxis, no buses. Yes, dear Elron, I'm also talking about cleaner air and a healthier living environment.
Expectations, traditions broken
Or, dear Elron, imagine a younger middle-aged group of friends, maybe former classmates. As busy as they are, it's not easy for them to find a single time that works for all of them to get together.
They started planning a two-night bike tour from Narva all the way to Valga in January already. Friday morning train from Tallinn to Narva, where they would hop on their bikes. And back to Tallinn on the last train from Valga on Sunday. Happy.
They had booked and paid for their two nights of accommodations in January already, but on June 3 discovered they couldn't do this bike tour after all. Yes, dear Elron, I'm talking, among other things, about legitimate expectations, and related expenses.
Dear Elron, imagine a single mother of about 30, whose child is around 11 years old. They have a special routine every summer — they wake up every Sunday morning, make pancakes and then bike from Tartu to Lake Verevi in Elva, where they go swimming, read, play and jump in the water. A day like this is exhausting, and it is 27 kilometers back to Tartu.
Of course they'll take the train back. Mom could manage, but her child probably couldn't. And Valga Highway is very busy on Sunday nights. Of course they'll take the train.
This summer, that child won't be able to go swimming in Lake Verevi. At least not the way they're used to. They'll have to take the bus. Or train. Both there and back. They are dependent.
Dear Elron, imagine...
What should Elron do?
I won't go on describing these scenarios; surely you can imagine them on your own. But consider the fact that a bike rack for your car that holds four bikes is pretty expensive. On top of the fact that transporting bikes has a pretty big impact on fuel consumption.
Speak nothing of the fact that, once again, transporting people by car, even together with their bikes, isn't exactly an environmentally friendly thing to do. But you already know that, don't you.
What should I do then, you ask? Let me try to answer that.
One option would be to sell bike tickets. This isn't a difficult idea to come up with. Our neighbors in Latvia do this, for example. You can require that bikes to be brought on trains be clean, including free of dust. It isn't difficult for someone who rides a bike to carry a rag with them, and they generally have water on them anyway. And, let's be honest, a clean bike is fundamental. Or should be, anyway.
But first and foremost, dear Elron, you need to make clear to politicians that they need to buy more trains. A lot more. We, bike riders, naturally understand that buying trains is an expense, as are train maintenance and the subsidization of train tickets. But this expense is necessary for the health of our people and our country's environment. And standing up for these two things is the duty of our politicians; it's even in the Constitution.
Dear Elron, it is in your power, and I believe even your duty, to remind politicians of this. At every opportunity. And even demand it. At every opportunity.
But right now? Don't do this. Banning things is never a good approach. Especially so suddenly, and just as summer arrives. This isn't a good idea at all.
Right now you should try launching bike tickets.
And ensure — no, take care — that everyone and everything who boards your train, whether passengers, bikes, scooters, walkers or wheelchairs, is clean, friendly and happy. And good luck, love and light to you with that.
What's more, my bike and I have traveled on packed trains repeatedly, and we've always managed to get by, with a smile, cracking jokes — always. I'm sure we can in the future as well!
Editor: Aili Vahtla