TALLINN - Ending free public transport in counties is primarily necessary to improve the public transport network, Estonian Minister of Regional Affairs Madis Kallas, who visited Tartu on Friday, told the regional Tartu Postimees.
According to him, a modestly priced ticket should not be too much for a working person, but would contribute a lot to the maintenance of the route network.
Kallas added that free bus rides for working-age residents will end in January.
"Probably not exactly on Jan. 1, but at the beginning of January. The exceptions are Polva and Voru counties, because there the new procurement period starts on April 1, and bus rides there will become paid at the beginning of April," the minister said.
According to him, free public transport as it was done has not justified itself.
"It has not brought people from cars to public transport in large numbers. Now we have to look for new solutions. Time is important in public transport. Public transport is used to get from point A to point B quickly. We have to work on ensuring that routes become faster and more convenient and that people are willing to pay for good service," Kallas said, adding that the increase in train passengers has shown that fast connections are necessary, and train travel has not been free.
According to Kallas, the goal is to have a uniform ticket system in Estonia so that it is equal in every county.
"Currently, public transport is paid in some regions and free in others, but in order to improve the route network, we must have a uniform system. So that artificial barriers between counties disappear. You buy one ticket and travel regardless of county and carrier," Kallas said.
Speaking about the ticket price, Kallas said that there are currently plans to launch the so-called Parnu County model: a ticket is two euros when bought from the bus driver, 1.5 euros when purchased in advance, and a monthly pass will cost around 25 euros.
"This could be the transition to paid public transport. We have received feedback that even low-wage earners who earn 900-1,000 euros per month are willing to pay 25 euros per month for unlimited rides," Kallas said.
According to the minister, depending on the county, this will bring in 300,000 euros to one million euros a year, for which a lot can be done to organize the route networks.