Priit Sauk, head of the Estonian Transport Administration (Transpordiamet), said that the agency lacks the funds to coordinate the three modes of transportation to and across the islands. He stated that savings could come from streamlining the various route networks.
The leaders of Hiiumaa and Saaremaa island municipalities criticized Sauk after he said in the Transport Ministry's periodical "Teejuht" that the airline flight between Hiiumaa and Tallinn, "with only three civil servants on board," is a waste of state money and a luxury service that taxpayers should not be subsidizing. He also said that the Saaremaa boat service is too frequent during the off-season.
On Friday, Sauk told ERR's "AK" that he was merely presenting facts and that it was his responsibility to organize a sustainable transportation system. "I think it is the responsibility of the state administration and each citizen to use state resources wisely. As we begin new procurement plans, negotiations with local authorities have also begun, which is why they are currently critical of us," Sauk added.
Sauk said that buses, planes and ships operating at the contracted capacity will need to more funding: "The reality is that our budget deficit for the three modes of transportation exceeds €20 million," Sauk said.
Optimizing flight schedules could save up to two million euros
On Thursday, Sauk met with authorities from the Saaremaa and Hiiumaa communities, as well as transportation organizers, to discuss ways to cut the cost of air travel:
"Today, each island has its own plane, which translates to two planes for maintenance, personnel costs, and so on. We proposed a new procurement strategy and a schedule that would allow a single aircraft to operate between the two islands, reducing the cost of flying links to the islands by about 25 percent, according to our estimates. It is between €1.5 and €2 million," he explained.
During the summer months, there were flights with 100 percent load factors; however, there are many flights with load factors below 25 percent, he said.
Sauk said between seven and eight million euros per year will be required to maintain the current schedule, which is much less than the sum allotted to the transport authority in the current state budget. According to Sauk, savings could come from the regional bus network, which would be organized primarily by municipalities.
Local governments would be responsible for provision of last-mile service, while the state would be responsible for the core network routes. "This might be a more sustainable approach and I anticipate cost savings," Sauk said. "I would like to see an increase in the frequency of the main lines" he added.
Riina Sikkut (SDE), minister of economic affairs and infrastructure, told ERR on Friday that frequent ship and plane links to the islands must be ensured, and that regional policy, not economics, must take precedence in connecting more isolated places.
Sikkut said that the ministry is not looking for transportation cuts, but rather aims to make transportation more efficient. She added that she was unaware of Sauk's plans to optimize aviation traffic.
Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Kristina Kersa