Possible Narva city fines add to bus operator woes

An Atko bus. Picture is illustrative.
An Atko bus. Picture is illustrative. Source: atko.ee

Bus line Atko may be facing fines for breach of service, mainly related to its buses skipping stops in the eastern Estonian town of Narva, Baltic News Service reports. This follows reports last week that Atko is losing its contract to operate in Harju County, as well as a recent inspection revealing an Atko driver had been working a 17-hour shift, in violation of regulations. In July, 26 people were injured in an accident involving an Atko bus, again in Harju County.

According to northeastern regional daily Põhjarannik, Atko chief in Narva, Aleksei Andrejev, explained that two buses, numbers 37 and 38, were scheduled to reach the same bus stop within a minute of each other. Since all awaiting passengers boarded the first of the two buses to arrive, the driver of the second bus saw no need to stop and open the vehicle's doors.

"I don't understand the reason for these complaints, but we are currently working towards having the second bus wait at the stop for a couple of minutes in such situations," Andrejev said.

The Road Administration (Maanteeamet) had already questioned Atko about similar stop-skipping incidents in Narva in June, though these had gone unanswered as at the end of July, BNS reports. The administration also issued a precept to Atko ordering compliance with bus schedules, with failure to do so potentially resulting in a €6,400 fine, before the latest reports of stop-skipping.

Andrejev also gave an explanation of these earlier infringements to Põhjarannik.

"The driver noticed that there were no passengers at the stop, and just three on the bus," he said.

"Not far from the stop, a Road Administration vehicle was parked, with three personnel in hi-vis vests standing nearby. Our driver noticed that something was happening at the bus stop, decelerated, and drove on without stopping, since he thought there was no reason to disturb them," Andrejev continued.

Andrejev added that the drivers have submitted explanatory statements with regard to the incidents, and have been reprimanded.

Previous incidents involving Atko

Twenty-six people were injured in a collision between an Atko bus and a tractor-trailer in the village of Meremõisa, Harju County, in July.

Last Thursday, North-Estonia Public Transport Centre announced it is terminating its contract with Atko and is to find a replacement.

During an inspection last Tuesday, Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) personnel found an Atko driver had been scheduled to work a 16-hour and 55-minute shift.

"I wish this were a one-off," said Estonian Transport and Road Workers' Trade Union (ETTA) president Üllar Kallas of this incident, adding that companies struggling with labor shortages are tempted to force drivers to work long shifts, despite the fact that regulations state that a shifts must be capped at 13 hours, only nine, or in exceptional cases 10, hours of which may be actual driving time.

Atko's Narva service

The current contract between Atko and Narva city runs from Feb. 2016 to Jan. 2022, BNS reports. The company replaced previous operator AS Narva Bussiveod, which is now bankrupt.

However, numerous complaints about Atko's service levels have been received ever since the company took on the tender. Põhjarannik reported in February that some buses failed to service the required routes in winter, in addition to skipping stops. Roadworks during that period had also been blamed for these infringements.

Narva city government also sent queries to Atko following complaints it had received, which, again, had gone unanswered as at present.

Veera Mihhailova, head of the department for economy at Narva city government said the lack of response was likely due to Atko's CEO being on vacation through July.

"We are waiting for an explanation as to why buses have been passing people by without stopping and why Atko has not given any explanations to the Road Administration," Mihhailova said, according to BNS.

"We have yet to receive an answer," she added, speaking on Aug. 1.

Both Mihhailova and Andrejev stressed that bus drivers are obligated to pull over at all scheduled stops, even where there are no passengers waiting or on board the bus, or, conversely, the bus is full to capacity.

"We will explain it to our drivers once more," Andrejev added.

Mihhailova said that no termination of Atko's contract was on the table yet, unlike in Harju County.

"There have been certain incidents, but we have not considered it yet," she said, adding that the previous supplier, Narva Bussiveod, had provided a smoother service.

"They had extensive experience and they knew well both Narva and the needs of its busnesses and residents," she said.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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