Superbus exits Estonia with court victory

Tiina Kaukvere
, daily news editor
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Photo: «Reporter» / Kanal 2

Having beaten Road Administration in lengthy court battle, Bus Transport Holding OÜ i.e. Superbus says it is leaving Estonia due to the stupid situation which would arise should the administration finally opt to issue the line permits applied for a year ago. The CEO Lauri Helke, a Finn, is open about the local 30 bus drivers being more than welcome in Finland where the bus company is a super success.   

On July 31st, Superbus stops carrying passengers in Estonia – having shaken the local market. This, even the very Road Administration will not deny as its public transport chief Kirke Williamson admits that the Scots forced others lower the prices.

«Would they have done that anyway, we know not,» meditates Ms Williamson.

Even so, even after the defeat in courts, Road Administration is finding fault with the budget bus carrier, claiming they entered the market without studying the rules first.

The fact remains, that the judges ruled that denying the company its lines permits was not substantiated, finding fault with comparisons of «incomparable» lines regarding intervals of departures, as well as unverified data presented regarding occupancy of buses operating the lines. 

Road Administration did not contest the decision and was also forced to cover the bus company’s costs for legal assistance amounting to €5,000.

However, the company says they have not much use for the victory any longer and it is easier to bid the Estonian market adieu.

While in light of the court ruling Road Administration is contemplating whether to proceed now to issue Superbus the express permits between major cities which they applied for, the bus company CEO Lauri Helke opted to not wait for that any longer.

To their 34 of staff, the decision to quit was announced last Friday. Yesterday, they sat down with the drivers to talks it all over.

As the court ruling was declared in June, Mr Helke says he was happy initially – until hearing from Road Administration what it would actually mean for the company.

Namely, having been declined to begin with, Superbus did not stand idle but sought out other options for line permits. They say they were finally able to start servicing clients last December.

Craftily, they opened ordinary long distance lines with lots of small stops favoured by the state.  

Mr Helke says that after the court made its judgement, Road Administration told them they would not be able to easily give up the lines already operating in exchange for more lucrative express lines  the law saying they would need to keep driving pursuant to existing contracts for two years minimum. Indeed, they were allowed to close departures but would then be unable to apply for line permits during two years on same route.

«We may decline but not necessarily so,» specified Ms Williamson.

regarding that, Mr Helke thinks it makes more sense to leave. «We knew our schedules we launched in December were not too optimal, but we thought the court case would bring a solution. When seeing no light at the end of the tunnel, one wishes not to suffer further losses,» said Mr Helke. He was open about the staff being offered a new beginning in Finland where Superbus is doing great.

«Not realistic for all 300 drivers coming [to work in Finland], but some surely will.»

According to Mr Helke, it is easier for bus drivers to find a new job in summer, wherefore they decided to put a swift end to the company – while Road Administration required 90 days advance notification. Mr Helke says all drivers will be paid one month’s salary additionally.

Critics claim it is just that Superbus is doing well in Finland while here the buses are empty, so they quit here to have more power for Finland. «Road Administration is not responsible for the financial situation of companies,» the agency would underline.

«We have invested heavily into Estonia and it was our aim to develop our operations in Estonia which continues to be a good market with the train traffic not so advanced. But our business model is not working with such obstacles on the market. We were very surprised that the Estonian transport sector is so closed,» said Mr Helke, adding that they are still satisfied with about 70 percent of their current departures while 30 would have to be reviewed.

Representing Superbus, law office Deloitte Legal sworn advocate Merit Lind pointed out that, having suffered financial damage, Superbus has the option to file a claim against Road Administration.

Mr Helke says they are carefully weighing that. «Personally I do not believe this to be corruption, but it definitely is bureaucracy. In the case at hand, bureaucracy won and Estonian consumer lost.»