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Wednesday's papers: Major public transport overhaul, a visa boom, and caring for our kids and disabled

Wednesday's papers in Finland discuss HSL's plans to roll out a new zoning system and prices, an uptick in visas issued to people from China and Russia, the age children should start day care, and a citizens' initiative to stop tendering certain services for the disabled.

Matkustajia astumassa metrojunaan Matinkylän metroasemalla Espoossa.
Commuters at the new Matinkylä Metro station Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

This Wednesday, the paper Helsingin Sanomat shines a light on an upcoming public transport shake-up in the capital city region that it says will make unrest about the western Metro extension look like child's play. Namely, Helsinki Region Transport (HSL) is planning a major overhaul of its zones and prices.

The new zone model would base the zone boundaries on their distance from the centre of Helsinki, designated by the letters A through D, from the inner to the outer zone. Helsinki, Espoo, Kauniainen and Vantaa will be located in the three innermost zones, or the ABC area.

If it sounds confusing, it is because it is, and HS writes that Helsinki politicians are already preparing for a massive backlash. The decision to split the capital city area into new zones was made already back in 2013, and the intention was to roll out the new system already in 2016. It is badly behind schedule, however, largely because the technology required for the complicated ticketing and information system is proving much more difficult than first imagined.

"We had an unbelievably hard time installing the travel card readers on different kinds of buses. Something that works on one bus doesn't work on another," HSL's CEO Suvi Rihtniemi tells the paper.

Of the 1,400 buses in HSL's fleet, just a few dozen are still not fitted with the reader at this stage. But the roll-out is also going to need to replace all of the tens of thousands of travel cards that are floating around the metropolis area with new ones that comply with the new system. No specific date has been set for the introduction of the new zones, and the prices of the tickets under the new scheme are still undecided, the paper reports.

No to parents returning to work earlier

The tabloid Iltalehti features news of a poll commissioned by the news agency Uutissuomalainen, which asked Finnish residents their opinion on parents returning to work more quickly after the birth of a child. IL says 58 percent of the survey's respondents were against the idea. Low-income families were the most opposed.

The paper says the norm in Finland is for a parent – usually the mother, statistically – to stay home with a baby until the child is between 1.5 and 2 years of age. A recent bid in the Finnish Parliament sought to divide child care between the parents better, but failed.

Research from the state benefit administrator Kela has also found that half of Finns believe that the best time for a parent to return to work and start the child in day care is when the child is two years of age. Kela researcher Anneli Miettinen tells IL that women who tend to stay home longer with their young children often don't have a full-time job to return to.

More visas issued to visit Finland

The Tampere-based Aamulehti newspaper discusses a rise in visas being issued to Finland, especially in China. Jyri Lintunen from the Finnish Embassy in Peking tells the news agency Lännen Media that they have seen a 43 percent increase in visa applications, compared to one year prior.

In total, some 10,000 visas to Finland have been issued in China already this year, breaking all previous records. A Foreign Ministry representative tells AL that Finnair's fast connections, the new panda house in Ähtäri and an uptick in winter tourism are all behind the growing Chinese interest.

In general, there are more visas being issued to visit Finland than ever before. Last year, 817,000 were granted, while in 2016, the number was 541,000.

The country of origin of the overwhelming majority of the visa holders is Russia, where the improving economy and stabilized ruble has encouraged many residents to renew their multiple entry visas.

Stopping traumatizing turnover

And the Joensuu-based newspaper Karjalainen has a story this Wednesday on plans to submit a citizens' initiative to the new Speaker of the Parliament, Paula Risikko, today. The citizens' initiative asks for the repeal of plans to put the care of disabled person out to tender. The drive is supported by over 30 organisations advocating for people with disabilities.

A campaign to collect signatures gathered over 72,000 names, meaning that the Finnish Parliament is now obliged to discuss the move on the floor. The citizens' initiative makes the case that some life-long, obligatory services for the disabled, such as housing and interpretation services, be excluded from public tendering processes. It argues that the disabled would suffer if people who help them with their personal hygiene, medication and communication with others are switched too often.

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