While the state budget is in the midst of a major surplus, state institutions are working hard to fulfill budget cuts. The Transport Administration must find a way to cut €3.8 million from its budget and has decided to remove roadside toilets and trash containers.
The first roadside trash containers were placed on stopping points aside highways two and a half years ago. Trash can be dumped in 65 parking lots and toilets are available in 61 lots. The maintenance of all them costs the institution €730,000, ETV's daily affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported on Sunday.
The Transport Administration infrastructure management director Raido Randmaa told ERR that offering services to road users has become an issue, because parking lots are covered in trash people bring from home. He said that the removal of trash containers could solve the issue, but a finance ministry order to make cuts only fueled the idea even further.
"We have tightened up on all operating costs, from business trips to trainings. We have even had to make changes to our staff," Randmaa said.
The administration will lay off 18 people this year, five people are on paternal leave and their posts will not be filled or will move to different departments and positions.
The budget cuts will see the popular ice roads not being opened this year, road marking will be reduced and trees will be pruned less, in addition to the removal of roadside toilets and trashcans.
"These are comfort services and important ones, but if we were to make cuts in road maintenance, we would do so at the expense of traffic safety," the administration official said.
Road users who make use of the toilets and trash containers do not consider them comfort services.
"We need them to stay where they are. They should even clean them more often," Fjodor, a truck driver, told ERR.
Another driver told "Aktuaalne kaamera" that the situation is unpleasant, because people might have to go to the toilet suddenly. "What are you going to do, go into a ditch or bush somewhere?" the driver said.
Nikolai, a truck driver from Saint Petersburg, Russia, said things are different in Sweden and Finland, for example. "You cannot do without trash containers. You would have trash on the roads or the roadsides and what would be worse," Nikolai noted.
The Transport Administration pointed out that the institution would still keep maintaining trash containers in bus stops and toilets aside the newly constructed sections of Tartu maantee.
"If we do not find more money, we are forced to remove the larger containers and the portable toilets from parking lots. We luckily have a rather extensive gas station network, where people can stop and go to the toilet. The option would not completely disappear for road users, but the quality will certainly go down," Raido Randmaa noted.
At a government press conference on November 25, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) criticized Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications Taavi Aas (Center) and said the economic affairs ministry should find resources in the budget to keep maintaining toilets and trash containers.
"I expect clear political leadership from the minister so that such foolishness would not take place, because there is money in the sector. The budget needs to be looked at very clearly. It is not like a cost-cutting task has been given and now there is nothing else to do but pick up the trashcans," the prime minister noted.
The economic affairs minister in turn responded to Kallas and said it is not that simple. "I understand it is easy to teach from the outside and say 'oh, you have the money'. Real life is unfortunately more complicated," Aas quipped.
Circle K Eesti commercial director Diana Veigel also does not approve of the idea. She said that if you expect the private sector to offer a service, you must also expand on the possibilities.
"Then the Transport Administration should give service stations more comfortable access roads, they should look at existing access roads to gas stations and likely give permits to stations more easily in the future to make it more comfortable for the client. If the entry road is not comfortable, the clients will not come," Veigel said.
The administration's spokesperson Erki Varma announced on Friday that the institution will continue negotiations with local municipalities to have the local governments take over the maintenance contracts. The municipality governments are not too eager to take on more responsibility, however.
"Every one of these transitions means that they are handed over with equipment. They are not just handed over and the taxpayer will pay for it," Põltsamaa municipality economic department head Mark Liivamägi said.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste