Commuters face big hit as Helsinki hikes cost of public transport

The cost of public transport in the Helsinki region is set to jump even further next year as the cost of big investments in infrastructure starts to bite.

Image: Yle Uutisgrafiikka

Commuters in the Helsinki region are likely to be hit in the wallet again next year as the transport authorities look to recover the cost of major investments in tram, rail and metro services. On average, ticket prices are set to jump by around 11 percent.

That will be a second year of well-above-inflation increases in the cost of public transport. In January Helsinki Region Transport (HSL) raised the cost of ticket prices by around five percent. For example a monthly ticket went from 49.50 euros to 52.40 euros. Regional monthly tickets went up by a bit less, while single-use tickets jumped by eight percent.

HSL’s financial plan indicates that from 2017 there will be a big change in the cost of getting the bus, tram, train or metro. The current zone system is also set for a shakeup, so direct comparisons are difficult, but on average the cost of a ticket is likely to rise 11 percent.

Investment costs

The jump is to pay for the ring rail line, which links two commuter lines and connects the airport to the rail system, and the metro’s westward extension into Espoo. HSL is responsible for half of the cost of these projects.

HSL’s member municipalities are Helsinki, Vantaa, Espoo, Kauniainen, Sipoo and Kerava. The municipalities were reluctant to pay for the investment, and have so far stuck to the line whereby their share of HSL’s budget should remain below 50 percent.

Image: Yle Uutisgrafiikka

"During the spring we’ll have negotiations about the infrastructure and see if we need to get the full cost from ticket revenue," said HSL’s head of public transport Tero Anttila.

A final decision will only be made in the autumn. Anttila hopes that despite the 11 percent figure, price rises will be softened in one way or another. One option is to reduce the level of service.

"We have a lot of saving options, and price rises are one of them," said Anttila. "In some cases decision-makers have seen cutting services as the best option, but up to now we haven’t had to do that."

Price rises reduce passenger numbers

Settling who pays for the cost of new rail lines is not a simple matter, according to transport technology professor Tapio Luittinen of Aalto University.

"There is a mindset that it’s perfectly fair for the costs to be paid by those who use the services, but on the other hand you have to recognise that public transport has a lot of benefits for society as a whole," said Luittinen.

Those benefits include reduced pollution and congestion, and the increased possibility of development in areas that are served by the infrastructure.

"It doesn’t pay to increase user fees so much that you lose some of the benefits to society," said Luittinen.

That could happen if, for example, users desert the Espoo metro extension for their cars when prices rise in 2017. Research suggests that a ten percent increase in ticket prices reduces usage by three percent. HSL’s forecasts suggest that population growth in the region will offset some of the effect, however.

The cost pressures are likely to recur in the near future as well. A further metro extension to Kivenlahti is planned for the early 2020s, and at the same time Helsinki is slated to begin constructing new express tram lines.