On July 1, 11 of Estonia’s 15 counties introduced free public transport on county buses for local residents, much like the scheme already running in Tallinn. This caused some confusion.
Tartu County is one of the areas where buses are now free of charge for residents. While not too many passengers made use of their new privilege on the first day, those who did were happy about it.
A sign indicating free transport for local residents hints at public bus lines. It is important to differ, as some lines, in particular those that cross county borders, still cost money.
Free public buses also don’t mean that you can just walk past the driver without doing anything. Just like in Tallinn, each passenger claiming their right to free transport needs to either validate their trip using their travel card and a card reader on the bus, or then get a free ticket from the bus driver.
As deputy director of the Road Administration, Meelis Telliskivi explains: “You certainly have to validate your travel card and tell the bus driver what your stop is. And that’s necessary for the statistic we get out of it that then tells us where and when people use the buses,” Telliskivi said.
There was some confusion because the systems used were new, and weren’t working on all of the 11 counties’ buses. In some cases passengers insisted that they needed to buy a travel card from the driver (“The minister knows how this works, not the bus driver!”) despite the fact that the latter couldn’t register the cards because the system wasn’t working.
Still, drivers made sure that every passenger had a free ticket, as it was possible to get fined for not carrying one, or not having validated the trip using one’s travel card.
Public buses are free to use to all county residents in Valga, Voru, Viljandi, Laane, Polva, Jarva, Jogeva, Tartu, Ida-Viru, Hiiu, and Saare County. Harju, Rapla, Parnu, and Laane-Viru County did not join the government’s new free county bus scheme. (ERR/Business World Magazine)