Transport company taking state to court on free travel issue

Lux Express buses.
Lux Express buses. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Transport conglomerate Mootor Grupp is taking the Estonian state to court on the issue of compensation for free transportation of children, and people with disabilities, which it says should come from the state and not from its own coffers, Baltic News Service reports.

Mootor Grupp is the parent company of Lux Express and SEBE coach lines, as well as Tallinn Bus Station and other transport and delivery concerns.

The group filed a claim on June 5, requesting reimbursement to cover the cost of minors and those with disabilities, but this was rejected by Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas (Centre), Mootor Group owner Hugo Osula claims, according to BNS.

According to Lux Express' own website, children up to the age of 7 receive an 80 percent discount on international routes. The same group rides for free within Estonia, as do minors up to the age of 16 who have a disability, as well as both for those with a profound or severe visual disability and for an individual accompanying them.

Ministry response

Mootor Group and Osula say that the ministry did not consider the arguments for reimbursement substantive.

Osula noted that the company supports young children and disabled people riding for free, but added that it and its subsidiaries do not understand why this should effectively be covered by other, paying passengers in what it calls providing free social services worth millions of euros to the state each year

"Do we see such practice in healthcare, for example?" Osula noted, according to BNS.

"The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications has not analyzed any of our legal arguments. If the officials had read our claim within its meaning, they would have formed questions regarding the constitutionality of the obligation to provide free rides, and should have considered amending the Public Transport Act, at the very least," he added.

Mootor Grupp's legal counsel

"In our claim, we highlighted the kind of mistakes that were made in the handling of the draft Public Transport Act," Osula said.

The Public Transport Act came into force in 2000.

"For example, the ministry did not have a substantive overview of the financial volume of the obligation to provide free rides, which is why they predicted it to be significantly smaller than it is in reality. In addition, during the handling of the bill, it was promised that the state would develop an electronic ticketing system which would allow it to collect data on passengers who do not need to pay to ride on commercial lines, to compensate carriers on the basis of this. However, the ministry has abandoned this and, as a result, stuck their hand even deeper into the pockets of companies. Carriers cannot accept this course of action," he added.

Lawyer Allar Jõks, who analyzed the Public Transport Act at the request of the bus companies, concurred that the current situation was unconstitutional.

"I doubt whether the minister and his officials would be prepared to give up their salary, car or home, for the benefit of persons in need," said Jõks.

"If we were to quote Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise, ministry officials have not assumed the goal of solving the concern of the enterprises, but of passing the buck," he added.

Hugo Osula added that the matter was not finished.

"Our goal is for the ministry to discuss the constitutionality of the Public Transport Act with us," he said.

"In Latvia and Lithuania, the state and local government compensate carriers for their obligation to provide free rides [to certain groups]. I am prepared to take the minister and ministry officials on a free bus trip to Riga and Vilnius, so they can learn how to amend the Public Transport Act," he continued.

Mootor Grupp AS includes carriers Timeless Buses, Lux Express, Lux Charter, LE Bus Service, Busland, Cargobus, Tallinna Bussijaam, Turnit, T-Pilet, SEBE.

It is also active in international parcel delivery and courier services, and on the international bus sale, market and also provides repair services for both buses and also military equipment, via its Milrem subsidiary.

The group has approximately 1,000 employees, and its reported revenue totaled €55 million in 2018, BNS reports.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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