Edgar Savisaar: Free public transport for Estonia!

After almost two years, free public transport in Tallinn has proven its sustainability, said Mayor Edgar Savisaar in his speech delivered today at the Local Government Forum in Rakvere.

Savisaar also said that the successful implementation of fare free public transport in the capital has taken us a lot closer to the implementation of free public transport nationwide.

“The necessity of nationwide free public transport hasn’t been questioned for a long time,” said Savisaar, and added that the socioeconomic demand for free public transport in rural areas is actually much bigger than in the capital.

“There is no doubt that the results elsewhere in Estonia would be just as good as in Tallinn,” said Savisaar. “First of all, free public transport is a very strong social dimension – guaranteeing mobility to everyone irrespective of their income and place of residence is critical for the preservation of life in all areas of Estonia.

Secondly, it would give the economy of Estonia a boost. It will benefit entrepreneurs and workers alike, as the area where people search for and accept jobs will increase considerably. Free public transport also makes people move more, especially consumers of local goods and services. It will boost domestic consumption.

And above all, it’s good for the environment of Estonia, as it reduces car traffic. Less wear on roads is good for municipal and state budgets.”

Savisaar said that social and economic issues are the main things that hold back Estonia’s development at present. “Free public transport alone is not almighty, but it is an important tool for furthering life in Estonia,” said Savisaar.

He went on to say that the horror stories that spread in Tallinn at the time when fare free public transport was planned are now fun to remember.

For example, the leader of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union’s fraction on the city council Toivo Jürgenson said on 19 March 2012: “If fare free public transport will not be implemented on the account of quality, we can assume that in all likelihood, it will make buses, trolleys and trams sparse in the city.   Today’s Tallinn is not financially or structurally ready to provide a service of such magnitude as public transport, which costs more than 50 million euros a year, completely free of charge. We all know that there are no free lunches.”

Savisaar emphasised that people’s satisfaction with the quality of public transport has actually increased. “Even the recent survey commissioned by the Ministry of the Interior indicates that 68% of the citizens of Tallinn find that the public transport service and its quality have improved. In Estonia as a whole, only 41% of people have the same opinion.”

It’s a myth that fare free public transport means a decrease in quality, added Savisaar. “We’ve proven that the implementation of free public transport has actually helped us improve the quality of the service,” emphasised Savisaar. “However, the quality of the service keeps deteriorating in the rest of Estonia, where people still have to pay for public transport.”

Savisaar also recalled that a chink in the armour of the firmly negative attitude of the right wing government towards free public transport appeared when former Finance Minister Jürgen Ligi said the following on the ETV show Foorum on 30 January 2013: “Fare free public transport has been unexpectedly successful, it’s easier to move around and people want to use public transport more. I had no faith in it, but perhaps it’s not too high a price to pay and maybe it’s even reasonable.”

Savisaar claimed that the implementation of free public transport on Estonian county lines is only a question of will.

The position of the social democrats has been ever more vague – the always eloquent members of this party haven’t done anything towards free public transport since becoming part of the government. “At present, the Centre Party is the only one that would actually implement it nationwide.”

Savisaar acknowledge the courageous local authorities that have already done something towards the implementation of free public transport – Keila Town and Keila Municipality, winter capital Otepää. The implementation of fare free public transport has also been repeatedly discussed in our summer capital Pärnu.

“The fares currently collected on county routes should be covered by the state, for whom it would only be an insignificant extra expense,” said Savisaar. “At present, it’s difficult to justify the ca. 75 percent subsidy of public transport. There is only one way to characterise the situation where coaches that receive such large subsidies still travel half-empty, because many people don’t have money for the fares – it’s a blatant waste of the taxpayer’s money.”

Savisaar added with regret that so for, the Government of the Republic has tried to obstruct the implementation of free public transport instead of supporting it. When the town of Haapsalu, which is governed by a coalition of the Centre Party and the Reform Party, started planning free public transport, Juhan Parts of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union, who was a minister at the time, threatened to deprive the town of any public transport subsidies paid by the state. “Funnily enough, it was the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union that promised fare free public transport before the local elections in Tartu and Viljandi,” said Savisaar to illustrate the hypocrisy of the party in question.

Savisaar added that nationwide free public transport would increase the world’s awareness of Estonia more than any Welcome to Estonia campaign.

“Nationwide fare free public transport is in the interest of the survival of our country and people,” emphasised Savisaar.