Simson’s plan short on support

Kadri Simson.

PHOTO: Mailiis Ollino

Chairman of the Pro Patria Res Publica Union (IRL) Helir-Valdor Seeder said that even though Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Kadri Simson (Center) has every legal opportunity to lay down free county-level public transport from July 1, she lacks a political agreement.

“The Center Party has tried to convince the government to move in that direction; however, the government has not approved it – on the contrary; IRL has been opposed to free public transport,” Seeder said.

Postimees wrote yesterday that Economy Minister Simson is looking to realize the Center Party’s election promise of free coaches on “less popular” state-subsidized county lines that would result in a peculiar situation where people could also ride for free on a few dozen long-distance lines.

“Provided it is a sensible and favorable solution for some counties, it is something to consider. However, we do not support a nationwide obligation to offer public transport for free laid down by a minister or the government,” Seeder said.

The chairman of the minority coalition partner pointed to last year’s coalition agreement that reads county-level public transport organization, including subsidies and additional resources, will be handed over to local public transport centers or local governments instead.

“It should be up to them to decide how to use money allocated for public transport,” Seeder said.

The politician said that different circumstances of counties mean public transport centers need to retain the right to adjust departures and lines. It might be more sensible to find special solutions instead of regular lines; for example, in cooperation with entrepreneurs or parents.

Free public transport on the county level and a few dozen long-distance lines could disrupt the general transport system.

“Why would a person pay for a train ticket to Keila if they can catch a free coach? People will opt for the coach, and we will be forced to have more of them,” Seeder offered.

It seems more than peculiar how the current situation was brought about. Several politicians who were present for coalition talks told Postimees yesterday that negotiations did not touch on free public transport in the form Simson is after today.

Looking at official documents, it turns out the government’s agenda was complemented with free county coach lines and a procurement of validators to be used in buses in December of 2016, a mere month after the coalition agreement was signed.

The state budget strategy approved in April gave Simson €13 million for the project for next year and €21 million after that.

The discrepancy is even more peculiar considering that Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) said as recently as in September that ticket prices should be up to local governments to decide.

“The state budget strategy discussion touched on volume of funding but not details. It was the ministry’s task to lay down a plan,” Kalvi Kõva, head of the SDE faction in the Riigikogu, recalled.

Kõva said that Simson aims to introduce her plan to the committee next Thursday. If we don’t like it, we will explain as much,” he said.

Postimees did not manage to get hold of Simson yesterday. The minister claimed in early November to have the support of coalition partners as free public transport could not have made it onto the government’s agenda otherwise.