TALLINN – According to Estonian bus companies Go Bus and Lux Express, high fuel prices have led people to use public transport more, but changes may still occur in the transport sector.
Ingmar Roos, business manager for Lux Express in Estonia, told BNS that the rapidly increasing fuel price has made former car users opt for buses. "During the summer months, the high demand for travel and the resulting good occupancy of the buses have helped to increase the ticket revenue enough that despite the increase in the price of fuel, the ticket revenue covers the costs of regular transport, but we are also worried about the fall developments and we expect a possible drop in the number of passengers by almost 20 percent in September," he added.
Roos said that a slight price increase is likely inevitable, but in the market of intercity transport services, pricing is still determined by the competitive situation. "Foremost the main competitors -- for example, the ticket price of the passenger train subsidized from the state budget and the future fuel price level, which determines the cost of using a private car," he added.
"Summer is the peak season for bus companies operating intercity routes, and now that the summer is coming to an end, we can note that the season has been very successful and has helped Lux Express recover from the very difficult situation that had arisen during the two pandemic years," Roos said. He added that the number of passengers this year from May to July was only 7 percent lower than the last year before the pandemic. "Although the recovery from the effects of the pandemic is not yet complete, it has happened faster than our spring estimates," Roos said.
According to Roos, Lux Express is also planning to reduce pre-planned routes that see passenger demand falling the most at the end of summer every year in September. "For example, we will reduce the number of trips on the Tallinn-Kuressaare route on weekdays with lower demand and suspend the service on the Tallinn-Kardla route until June of next year, in which case the ferry connection used for transfer will also be canceled. At the same time, we are ready to launch additional volumes on routes related to work and study, such as Tallinn-Tartu," he added. There are no major cuts planned, but Roos said that if Estonia were to be hit by a new coronavirus wave affecting people's movement patterns, reducing the volume of scheduled transport would be relevant.
When asked how, in Lux Express's opinion, the long-distance route market will be affected by the closure of some long-distance routes of Taisto Liinid, Roos found that the volume of long-distance bus routes served by Taisto Liinid and Taisto Ekspress had been decreasing year by year and that no significant vacuum would be created by their exit from the market. "A more perceptible reduction in transport volumes will occur on the Tallinn-Parnu route with their departure, but the Taisto companies have skillfully timed their exit from the market at a time when the summer peak demand has been served and the number of Tallinn-Parnu passengers is dropping significantly," he added.
Roos believes that this will help other carriers serving Tallinn-Parnu connections to survive the upcoming low season more easily and avoid reductions in the number of departures.
Go Bus CEO Andrei Mandla also said that the increase in fuel prices has made people use public transport more. "The increase in fuel prices has made people use public transport more, but it does not fully compensate for the increase in the price of fuel," Mandla told BNS.
He added that together with other bus companies, they will contribute to the development of the public transport sector in order to make it the most preferred mode of transportation for people. "It is possible that this will also lead to changes in the carriers' camp, but this is difficult to predict in today's difficult economic context," he said.
Due to the needs of passengers, Go Bus has also changed the timetable of the Valga-Viljandi-Tallinn bus route and launched a new Parnu-Tallinn route.
Citing economic unprofitability, bus operator Taisto Liinid ceased servicing 15 long-distance bus lines on the Tallinn-Parnu and Tallinn-Paide-Viljandi-Valga routes from Aug. 22 with service likewise terminated on the Tartu-Viljandi-Parnu line already from Aug. 16. The company will continue with its Voru-Tartu and Voru-Tallinn bus lines. Taisto Liinid has taken altogether 20 departures off its timetable, the bus operator said.
Head of Taisto Liinid Taisto-Taimo Kangsepp said that the operation of bus lines has been hit hard by two winters of coronavirus and there are signs that the third winter is not going to be any better. "In bus operation, it is business volumes that matter and we cannot bet on our earlier volumes returning. The world and people's habits have changed," Kangsepp said. He added that the price of diesel fuel is at least two times higher than two years ago.