A new contract period for ferries to and from the small island of Kihnu came into force in October, bringing with it changes in ticket sales regulations and discounts, which locals were not notified of.
The ferry traffic between mainland Estonia and the island of Kihnu, population c. 490, off the southwestern coast of Estonia and lying in the Gulf of Riga, is currently suspended, as the current ferry, the Kihnu Virve was sent off for repairs. A smaller replacement ferry called Amalie is set to take over the route on October 18.
Kihnu Mayor Ingvar Saare said there are more problems regarding ferry traffic than the ferries themselves, as due to recent amendments in the contract drwan up by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications see changes in ticket sales, which snuck up on the locals.
Saare said: "There are major communication problems between the Road Administration (Maanteeamet) and the economic affairs ministry, because there was no agreement made within 12 month on ticket prices, conditions for scheduled service and that created great resentment in early October."
Taivo Linnamägi, head of the aviation and maritime department at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, said that the ministry has not been able to discuss the topic at length due to the coronavirus pandemic. The new regulations were implemented as a placeholder solution for three months.
Linnamägi said: "In its essence, the main conditions did not change. They were specified according to existing legislation and the ministry has also announced that the local municipality government will be included in discussions for the development of new regulations starting January 1. Among other things, the local government will also be invited to speak to the [Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas] to jointly discuss new conditions."
Still, some changes were made with the new regulations. For example, locals no longer have priority over others for ferry travel access. In addition, the people of Kihnu can only get a discount on vehicles they have registered as an owner of.
Ly Lilles, a local resident, explained to ERR why such changes are bad for locals: "If something were to happen to my vehicle and I were to borrow my neighbor's car to take my children to Pärnu for a doctor's visit, this means I would pay the full vehicle ticket price. Same thing, if I take a trailer from the city to bring larger goods home, I have not been registered as an official user in the technical passport, I'm only renting, I'm once again paying full price for tickets. The discounts are unusable for locals in some situations."
Linnamägi said the priority list is meant for people who work in essential service and connecting a vehicle to the owner is analogous to other sea travel companies in Estonia.
He said: "All these questions must be discussed with the local community. In addition, the possible opportunities of public transportation must be analysed in relation to regulations and access. We will gladly discuss this with the local community in the coming days of this month."
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste, Andrew Whyte