Rural Finland is facing a public transport revolution as ever more routes are scrapped along with the subsidies that sustained them. The public sector is considering new ways to organize public transport as public subsidies to private bus operators are phased out.
A new public transport law that brings Finnish legislation into line with EU rules has banned public subsidy for many loss-making routes, and the changes are already being felt in sparsely-populated parts of the country as old contracts expire.
“In eastern Finland a couple of hundred long-distance routes have been axed,” said Satu Huttunen of the North Savo Centre for Economic Co-operation and Development (ELY Centre), who says that the services to go are the evening and weekend runs, and connections to study and sports centres.
“Some quite important connections have been removed,” said Huttunen.
A transitional period is in force in different parts of Finland. After that, the routes should be competitive or purchased from bus companies and operated by municipalities or ELY Centres. Those routes most under threat are slower, regular services with plenty of stops.
“Passenger numbers on these slower services has dropped in the countryside, and now as contracts end, then they are the services under most threat at the moment,” said Kari Hietaniemi of Koiviston Auto, Finland’s biggest private operator of bus services.
Silja Siltala of the Association of Local Authorities says that newer modes of transport could replace the bus routes. One option is the kind of customer-focused lift provision currently being trialled in Helsinki as the KutsuPlus service.
“Newer call-directed systems could be the right solution,” said Siltala.
Finnish law mandates that local government provides school transport and mobility services for disabled people, many of which are currently provided by taxi firms. The Social Security Institution Kela pays for some of the taxi journeys required to meet that obligation.