In Focus: Traffic Safety

traffic safety iceland

 

January of 2024 was the deadliest month in terms of traffic deaths in Iceland’s history. Six people lost their lives in car accidents; one in an accident near Vík, two on Grindavíkurvegur, two near Skaftafell, and one in Hvalfjörður. Such a rate of fatal accidents had not been seen since record keeping began some 50 years ago.

Iceland ranks among the safer countries in Europe when it comes to road safety, and the accident rate has declined steadily over the last couple of decades due to road improvements and safer cars. The deadliest year of this century was in 2000, when 32 people died in traffic. In comparison, nine people died in traffic collisions in all of 2023.

But as tourism increases beyond pre-pandemic levels, and more and more cars hit the often-icy roads, authorities are looking for new ways to ensure motorist safety. In addition to costing lives, traffic collisions incur an estimated ISK 40 billion [$289 million, €268 million] in costs for Icelandic society as a whole. In order to tackle the issue, the Ministry of Infrastructure adopted a 15-year road safety plan last year. Focusing on the three principles of safer motorists, safer roads, and safer vehicles, the plan aims to make Iceland one of the top five European nations in traffic safety by decreasing the number of deaths and serious injuries by 5% every year until 2038. Additionally, the plan aims to reduce collision-related costs during this period.

Not zero yet

When introducing the plan last year, Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, Minister of Infrastructure, said that Iceland should aspire to reach the same levels of road safety as it has for safety at sea. “We must always look to decrease the number of accidents, prevent pain, and minimise societal cost,” he said. “With increased investment in road infrastructure, we can adopt a Vision Zero policy like many of our peer nations.”

traffic safety iceland

Vision Zero is a multi-national road traffic safety project that aims to achieve a system with no fatalities or serious injuries. Instead of a cost-benefit analysis, where monetary value is placed on life and health, Vision Zero is based on the principle that “life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society.” The project was first adopted in Sweden in 1997, where traffic fatalities have steadily decreased despite an increase in traffic. It has since been implemented in various cities and countries across the globe. With Vision Zero, speed limits are lowered, especially in urban areas, as collisions at lower speeds are less likely to cause serious harm.

The new Icelandic road safety plan does not adopt Vision Zero, as a 5% decrease in the number of deaths and serious injuries would still leave room for some 80 such cases per year at the tail end of the plan in 2038. However, the plan includes benchmarks in the spirit of Vision Zero, such as no traffic fatalities among children under 14 or due to lack of seat belt use.

Unfamiliar conditions

Car rental companies in Iceland announced record profits in 2022 as tourism resurged following the lifting of COVID restrictions. At the same time, the number of rental cars available in Iceland reached an all-time high. Tourist numbers have bounced back from pandemic lows and are expected to break the previous annual record this year, with a steady rise projected in the coming years.

This increase in drivers on the roads brings new challenges. Iceland’s roads can become dangerous due to sudden shifts in weather. Additionally, snowfall and fog can blind drivers, while low temperatures can cause roads to become slippery. As many tourists are not used to driving in these conditions, authorities are concerned that without proper information, they can end up in harm’s way. Locals themselves are also not immune to the difficulties of these circumstances, even on safer urban roads. In January, for example, traffic chaos ensued in Reykjavík when a power outage coincided with a snowstorm. Dozens of collisions were reported, thankfully none involving serious injuries.

traffic safety iceland

In some cases, car rental companies have taken it upon themselves to advise tourists on road safety. Common advice includes heeding wind and weather warnings, informing them that headlights must be on at all times according to law (even during daytime), being careful on single-lane bridges, keeping an eye out for sheep on the road, slowing down when approaching gravel roads, and never stopping on the side of the road to take photos, especially on the busy Ring Road that circles the island. Off-road driving is also illegal in Iceland. Both residents and visitors have put themselves in danger by driving off road, not to mention the environmental harm and punitive repercussions of driving illegally on precarious soil.

Goals for foreign drivers

The road safety plan also seeks to decrease serious collisions involving travellers from abroad. “Foreign tourists in Iceland often find themselves in conditions that are alien to them and can therefore face trouble while driving,” the road safety plan reads. “In order to decrease the likelihood that they become involved in an accident, we need to inform them about the uniqueness of Icelandic traffic and Icelandic roads, while encouraging them to use seat belts, observe the legal speed limits, and follow other rules that are in place here.”

traffic safety iceland

The plan also includes a segment on providing migrant motorists with information on Icelandic traffic rules, as they may differ from what applies in their home countries. Driving licences issued by member states of the European Economic Area, which includes the European Union, Lichtenstein, Norway, and Iceland, are recognised and valid in Iceland, even if the motorists have had no training or experience with the subarctic conditions with which new Icelandic drivers must familiarise themselves. The plan also notes that migrants who don’t speak Icelandic should be accommodated when it comes to educational and preventive material on traffic safety.

Public transport, private responsibility

Lastly, the slow but ongoing process of improving public transport in Iceland should gradually make roads safer by decreasing the number of cars on the roads. Borgarlínan, a Bus Rapid Transit system for the greater capital area, is in the works and is expected to decrease congestion on roads in the city as its population continues to grow, while having a positive environmental impact. Buses also service most rural areas and remain an economical option for travel outside the city limits.

traffic safety iceland

The bottom line, however, is that most traffic accidents are caused by human error. Most of them take place in urban areas, but the more dangerous – and sometimes deadly – ones tend to happen in the countryside where speed limits are higher, trips are longer, and driver attention is more likely to waver. “It is therefore important,” the road safety plan states, “that our behaviour in traffic is in accordance with rules and in tune with conditions so everyone gets home safely.”

How To Travel Around Reykjavík 

Reykjavík from above, housing crisis Iceland

Knowing how to get around Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital city, is essential for those hoping to truly maximise their visit. So what transportation options are available, and how much do they cost? 

Despite being home to over two-thirds of Iceland’s population, Reykjavík has a reputation for being a small capital city. This assessment is not entirely unfair; compared to the majority of other capitals around the world, the city could hardly be described as a metropolis. 

With that said, it still covers 232 sq km [144 mi,] often surprising those who bought into the misconception that Reykjavík is little more than a “quaint fishing town.”

A child rides a segway through Reykjavík
Photo: Golli. There are many creative ways to explore Reykjavík.

Thankfully, many of the most beloved attractions, be it the Sun Voyager sculpture, Harpa Concert Hall, or Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church, are all within easy walking distance from one another. 

However, other notable stops, like Perlan Museum, Árbær Open Air Museum, and Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach require a little more research into the transportation possibilities. To mention it briefly, City Sightseeing Reykjavík offers a hop-on, hop-off service that will take you to many of the best sites across the city.

Without further ado, let’s delve into the many ways you can travel across Reykjavík without breaking the bank!   

All About Public Transport Buses in Iceland 

Public bus in Reykjavík
Photo: Golli. Buses in Reykjavík are recognisable thanks to their bright yellow colour

Without trains or an underground tube service, Reykjavík’s residents must rely on city buses to get from A to B. The country’s only public transport company is called Strætó. They operate several bus lines throughout the city. As an aside, Strætó is an abbreviation of the word Strætisvagn, which translates to ‘street car.’ 

Hlemmur bus terminal is the major interchange for Strætó. The majority of bus lines pass through here. In 2017, the terminal’s building was transformed into a popular food hall, Hlemmur Mathöll, and is easily accessible at the bottom of Laugavegur. 

This renovation has been something of a blessing, having transformed what was once one of the more run-down areas of the city into someplace quite special. Why not make the most of it by grabbing a tasty bite while waiting for your next bus? 

A man using the klapp app in Reykjavík
Photo: Golli. A man waits for the bus in Reykjavík

It is always wise to check their website regularly to keep up to date with timetables and disruptions (many of the city’s residents will be happy to tell you that Strætó does not have the greatest reputation when it comes to reliability.) 

You can also use the app’s route-planner to help strategize your journey and see at which stops you might have to change buses.

You’ll instantly be able to recognise Strætó buses thanks to their canary-yellow colour. There are a vast number of bus stops across the city and beyond, with some being shelters, while others are a mere signpost. 

If you need to contact the company directly, you can reach their customer service by email at [email protected], or by telephone at +354 540 2700. 

How much does public transport cost in Reykjavík? 

public transportation iceland
Photo: Golli. Bus fares will cost more starting January 8 2024

If you have the cash handy, you can buy tickets on the bus directly. But, in an age where cards over coins has become the new standard, securing your route this way can often be more hassle than it’s worth. 

Naturally, one would think that a bus fare could be bought directly through Strætó’s app, but this is actually not the case. In fact, tickets are most widely purchased through a separate app, Klappið.

As of January 8, 2024, a single adult bus fare costs 630 kr [$4.60, €4.20]. Children between 12 – 17 years old, and adults above 67 years old, only have to pay 315 kr, while those 11 years old and younger are permitted to ride for free. Also, travellers with disabilities have a discounted rate at 189 kr when paid through Klappið. 

Both the Klappið and Strætó apps can be downloaded through the Apple Store or Google Play.

If you’re planning on staying in the capital for a while, another option might be the Reykjavik City Card. Not only does it permit you entry into the city’s museums, art galleries, and swimming pools, but it allows you unlimited rides on Strætó. The Reykjavik City Card comes in three varieties; 24 hours, 48 hours, and 72 hours. 

What is Hopp in Iceland? 

Hopp scooters in front of Mount Esja in Reykjavík
Photo: Hopp Reykjavík. Scooters in front of Reykjavík’s Mount Esja.

Founded in Reykjavík in 2019, the micro mobility company, Hopp, provides its residents and guests a means to travel across the city by way of shared electric scooters, cars, and taxis. 

With a focus on sustainable travel and ease of access, Hopp is perfectly suited for travellers hoping to keep their trip to Iceland as carbon neutral as possible. 

Hopp vehicles of all shapes and sizes are now as common a sight around the city as souvenir stores, and have quickly become part of the fabric that makes up the Reykjavík tapestry. 

 

Renting a Hopp scooter costs ISK 115 up front, then ISK 39 a minute afterwards, making it a very affordable way of travelling short distances. Payment is all done through the app. 

As mentioned, Hopp also operates a taxi service, following a similar model to Uber in other countries. While this is a new operation, visitors to Iceland can check their driver’s rating before booking a ride. 

The Hopp app can be downloaded through Google Play or the Apple Store.   

Should I Rent a Car in Reykjavík? 

Renting a car can be a great way to get around Reykjavík
Photo: Golli. Renting a car is a good option for exploring Reykjavík city.

For the greatest freedom, renting a car remains the optimum choice. Not only does it allow you to set your own schedule, but also change your plans on the fly should the need arise.

There are a variety of vehicle options available depending on your requirements. If you’re planning on leaving the capital to head out to the Highlands during summer, do note that a 4X4 will be necessary so as not to become stranded on loose gravel, or midway through a deceptively deep river. 

Read more on driving in Iceland:

How to park in Reykjavík? 

Aerial view of Reykjavík city traffic during winter
Photo: Golli. Aerial view of Reykjavík city traffic during winter

As is often the case with capital cities, finding a place to park in Reykjavík can often be challenging. Fear not, for there are ways of mitigating this frustration, saving you unnecessary circles around downtown, and the predictable spilling of curse words.

What’s important to realise is that Reykjavík has four parking zones, each with different rates and time slots depending on where they are. Designated by signs stating, P1, P2, P3, and P4, it’s good to know that Parking Zone 1 is the most expensive, and the most central to the city. From each number out, the respective charge becomes less, but the distance furthers. 

When using a ticket machine to pay for parking, make sure to keep your licence plate number on hand. Note that not all parking machines will print a ticket, but this does not present an issue; parking attendants scan licence plates to check that a fare has been paid. 

However, oftentimes, finding a ticking machine is unnecessary. Actually, the easiest way to pay for parking in Iceland is through the mobile application, Parka. You can download the app on both the App Store and Google Play. 

Can you travel around Reykjavík by foot? 

Reykjavík walking district laugavegur
Photo: Golli. Pedestrians walking down Reykjavík’s busiest street, Laugavegur

Another great option is simply traversing Reykjavík by foot. For those remaining central to the city, Iceland’s capital is a fantastic place for walking, not only for its cleanliness and pleasant ambience, but for the way major port-of-calls are laid out. 

This is particularly true of Miðborg, the city’s downtown district, which is undoubtedly the cultural hub given its concentrations of shops, restaurants, and museums. 

Reykjavík’s most popular shopping streets are Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur, both found in Miðborg. 

Skólavörðustígur leads right up to Hallgrímskirkja church, and is better known as “Rainbow Street” due to the vibrant colours painted along its lower section. You’ll find a variety of easy going cafes and restaurants as well, as well as kitsch souvenir and grocery shops.

Pedestrians outside of Hallgrímskirkja church.
Photo: Golli. Pedestrians enjoy a walk in Reykjavík.

Laugavegur is the street most dense with foot traffic; for all intents and purposes, it begins at Hlemmur bus terminal and ends at Lækjartorg intersection, just a short way away from Harpa Concert Hall. Over recent years, vehicle traffic has been restricted on large sections of Laugavegur to help incentivise residents and travellers to walk.

Walking from Miðborg to neighbouring Grandi, home to the picturesque Old Harbour, takes approximately twenty minutes. This is a lovely stroll in itself, allowing great views of Reykjavík’s coastline and residential districts. 

Over recent years, efforts have been made to popularise Grandi among visitors, hosting such interesting stops as FlyOver Iceland, and the museums,  Whales of Iceland and Reykjavík Maritime Museum. There are also supermarkets, restaurants, and ice cream parlours nearby, as well as the iconic Kaffivagninn, Iceland’s oldest cafe. 

How to take a Taxi in Reykjavík? 

Taxi in Iceland's capital, Reykjavík
Photo: Golli. Taxis in Reykjavík

Sometimes, you’ll want to avoid the stress of planning your journey and instead leave it to those who know the city like the back of their hand. Fortunately, there are several taxi companies that operate 24/7 in Reykjavík. 

While this is by far the most expensive option from getting from place to place, it can sometimes be a useful option, especially late in the evening, or when no other transport options are available.

The two most respected taxi companies in Reykjavík are Hreyfill, founded in 1943, and BSR, which was founded in 1921. 

Hreyfill +354 588 5522

BSR +354 561 0000

In Summary 

A bridge in Reykjavík during summer.
Photo: Golli. However you travel, Reykjavík is a fantastic city to explore!

However you choose to explore Iceland’s gorgeous capital, you are sure to quickly fall in love with the city. The pace of life is slower here. And despite it very much being a city, travellers will pick up on its laid-back atmosphere. 

While transportation is an important facet of every vacation abroad, spend your time here at a leisurely pace. Still, remember that there are many options for how you choose to get around Reykjavík. But make sure to pick those that best suit your itinerary. 

Parking Fees Rise in Downtown Reykjavík

architecture downtown Reykjavík houses square

Higher parking fees took effect in central Reykjavík this month and have been criticised by some politicians and locals. The city has instituted paid parking on Sundays for the first time and extended the hours when parking is paid on other days.

In the P1 and P2 zones, parking will be paid until 9:00 PM throughout the week. It was previously free after 6:00 PM on weekdays and 4:00 PM on Saturdays. On Sundays, parking will be subject to fees between 10:00 AM and 9:00 PM.

Three-hour limit in P1 and P2

Guðbjörg Lilja Erlendsdóttir, Director of Transport at the City of Reykjavík, says this change was implemented to accommodate residents and shop owners in the city centre. “The aim of the fees is that as many people as possible can get parking when they need it. Therefore, in toll zone 1, where there are a lot of shops and services, we are also implementing a maximum time of three hours, and are extending the toll hours in zones 1 and 2. All this is done so that residents and visitors get more parking when they need it,” Guðbjörg told RÚV. It’s important to note that residents within paid parking zones can apply for residential cards, allowing them to park within applicable parking zones for free.

Fee increase to ISK 600 in P1

In the P1 zone, the cost of parking will also increase to ISK 600 [$4.31, €4.11] per hour, from the previous rate of ISK 430 [$2.95, €3.09] per hour. However, parking will now be free in zone P3 on Saturdays. A count revealed that parking spaces were better used on Sundays than Saturdays, so the change may help to better distribute weekend traffic in the city centre.

Independence Party politician Kjartan Magnússon criticised the steep price hike in the P1 zone, which amounts to some 40%. Guðbjörg says there has been relatively little response to the changes overall, however.

Divers Assess Damage to Cargo Ship

Divers are on their way to a German cargo ship currently that was damaged yesterday, Vísir reports. Environmental concerns surround the ship due to the possibility of an oil leak. Although damage to the ship has been confirmed, the extent of it is not yet known.

En route to Rotterdam

The cargo ship in question ran aground yesterday, September 10, near Akurey, a small island outside of Reykjavík harbour. A possible oil spill was detected in the area and the Coast Guard’s search and rescue team was called in for assistance. The ship, which was on its way to Rotterdam, returned to harbour.

An environmental protection barrier was placed around the ship.

Ágeir Erlendsson, information officer for the Coast Guard, stated to Vísir: “We saw this thin film of oil, both from Óðinn’s (a Coast Guard ship) observation deck and from a helicopter fly-over. This thin film was seen where the ship ran aground. That’s why it’s heading into the harbour, and we will then further quarantine it.”

Divers assessing damage

However, as of today, September 11, the oil leak is yet to be confirmed. Divers are currently on their way to the ship to further assess the situation.

The ship is on lease to Eimskip from its owner, German logistics company Peter Döhle.

“The divers are on their way to assess the damage,” stated  There is some damage, and it is uncertain whether the ship can sail. Most likely, some repairs will need to be carried out, but we do not know the extent of them,” stated Edda Rut Björnsdóttir, a representative for Eimskip. “There is some damage, and it is uncertain whether the ship can sail. Most likely, some repairs will need to be carried out, but we do not know the extent of them.”

The Environment Agency has been informed, and a transportation investigation committee is said to be conducting an investigation into the matter.

Progress Made on New Þorskafjörður Bridge

westfjords bridge

Significant progress has been made on the new Þorskafjörður bridge since construction began on the project some two years ago. The bridge is part of the Vestfjarðarvegur, which will better connect many communities in this remote region of Iceland.

“We currently have about fifteen people here. Eight excavators, two bulldozers, a dump truck. You name it, whatever is needed. This is a massive project. For example, with the bridge itself, about four thousand cubic meters of concrete were used. 400 tons of steel, so it’s quite significant,” stated project manager Einar Valur Valgarðsson to RÚV.

Einar believes it’s safe to say that the project is nearing completion.

“Now we’re just continuing to connect the western side and finish the filling work,” he continued. “We’re also breaking up rocks.”

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The bridge will be important to the region, as it will shorten the route through Þorskafjörður by some 22 km [13 mi].

It will also increase access to the Barðaströnd region, one of Iceland’s most remote regions. This region is largely dependent on the ferry Baldur which sails across Breiðafjörður. However, the ferry has had technical difficulties in recent years.

The completed bridge will be 260 m in length and will allow travellers to drive through the southern Westfjords on an entirely paved road.

The Þorskafjörður project began in 2021 and has cost roughly ISK 2 billion [$14 million; €13 million]. The project is due for completion in July 2024, but according to project manager Einar, it could well be done before that.

 

New Westfjords Ferry Expected this Autumn

Breiðafjörður ferry Baldur

Regular malfunctions that have plagued the ferry Baldur, which connects West Iceland and the Westfjords, may soon be a thing of the past. RÚV reports that a replacement for the aging ferry is expected to arrive in Iceland in mid-October. The replacement ship named Rust, and like its predecessor, is from Norway.

Baldur is the only ferry that sails between West Iceland’s Snæfellsnes peninsula and the Westfjords. It has experienced regular breakdowns in recent years, occasionally stranding passengers at sea for hours. A journalistic investigation conducted by RÚV programme Kveikur last year found multiple safety issues on board, though many have since been rectified.

Baldur sails between Stykkishólmur, West Iceland, and Brjánslækur in the southern Westfjords, stopping at Flatey island on the way, and is a vital link for the area, particularly in winter, when many roads in the region can become impassable. Stykkishólmur Mayor Jakob Björgvin Jakobsson stated that he expected Baldur’s operator Sæferðir to ensure regular ferry trips until the new ship arrives.

Jakob stated that Rust fulfils modern safety requirements and, unlike Baldur, has a backup engine, meaning that engine failure would not strand the boat at sea. Rust is, however, smaller than Baldur, and can accommodate one fewer loaded truck. Jakob expressed his hopes that the government was arranging the construction of a new ferry that better meets the region’s needs in terms of transport and tourism.

Read more about Iceland’s ferries.

Airlines Recovering from Storm Delays, Arranging for Stranded Passanger Transport

Keflavík airport Icelandair

Flights to and from Iceland seem to be back to normal following the storm. According to Isavia’s website, some of Icelandair’s arriving flights were cancelled or delayed but most departures have taken off despite delays. Iceland air and Play Air are making arrangements to get stranded passengers to their destinations in time for Christmas.

Icelandair released a statement late last night that they are working hard to get their passengers to their destination in time for Christmas. Yesterday, the airline had 17 departures to Tenerife, Las Palmas, Copenhagen, London and North America, as well as transporting passengers from Keflavík to Reykjavík and supplies to the depleted stores of the airport terminal. They claim that the outlook for today is good, even though some flight disruptions may occur. Prospective passengers are asked to pay close attention to flight information.

Play air also issued a statement yesterday, stating that hopefully flight disruptions will be over today. Play will be collecting the airline’s new passenger jet immediately instead of next spring as previously scheduled. This means that the airline will have seven planes of its own to transport stranded passengers, as well as rental planes.

The winter weather had various effects on airport services and yesterday, travellers were asked to refrain from arriving in private vehicles as the longterm-parking lots were covered in snow. Today, they’ve been reopened, but those who intend to park their cars at Leifsstöð are asked to pre-book parking online. According to an Isavia statement: “Our team worked into the night and others took over this morning to carry out cleaning work in all P areas and around the terminal. The task is huge due to the heavy snowfall and some cars are still covered in snow. We kindly ask all passengers to pre-book parking online.”

Car Taxes and Fees to Rise in Iceland

driving in reykjavík

The cost of owning a car in Iceland will rise significantly next year, if the 2023 budget bill is passed in its current form. The bill proposes hikes in gasoline and emissions taxes as well as the general vehicle tax. A new tax will be imposed on electric cars and new road tolls will also be implemented. The green energy transition will require the Icelandic government to restructure how it taxes vehicles and fuel, the main source of funding for road and transport infrastructure.

“Goes way too far”

The hikes in fees and taxes represent a 36% increase in revenue from vehicles for the state, according to Rúnólfur Ólafsson, chairman of the Icelandic Automobile Association (FÍB). “And then this comes with new taxes on both petrol and diesel,” Rúnólfur told RÚV. “This is happening at the same time as the Minister of Infrastructure is talking about greatly increased new taxation of public use of vehicles with so-called road tolls in tunnels, over bridges, and so on.”

Public transport infrastructure is limited in Iceland, meaning that the majority of the population relies on private vehicles to access employment and services. Rúnólfur says the additional costs will hurt the most vulnerable sectors of the population. “These are hugely increased charges that are being announced in one fell swoop, and we believe that this goes way too far as it is being proposed now.”

Cost of electric vehicles to rise

The government also proposes applying a 5% minimum excise duty on all cars, meaning that a full discount will no longer be applied to electric cars. While Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson stated there will continue to be strong incentives to buy environmentally friendly cars, FÍB calculates that the excise duty and value-added tax will raise the cost of electric cars by ISK 300,000 [$2,150; €2,150], though the rise could be as much as ISK 1 million for some cars [$7,160; €7,160].

Iceland funds the maintenance and development of roads and infrastructure through taxation on vehicles and fuel. A notice on the budget bill states the restructuring of this taxation will be one of the biggest challenges for the treasury in the coming years.

Reykjanes Eruptions Impact Airport Relocation Plans

Reykjavík City Airport flugvöllur

Seismic and volcanic activity on Southwest Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula affects the viability of building an airport at Hvassahraun, halfway between Reykjavík and Keflavík International Airport, Iceland’s Prime Minister told RÚV. Hvassahraun was previously selected as the most viable site for relocating Reykjavík City Airport, which is currently located near the city centre. Iceland’s Transport Minister stated yesterday there are diminishing chances an airport will be built at Hvassahraun.

Reykjanes entering phase of volcanic activity

An eruption began yesterday afternoon on the Reykjanes peninsula, near Fagradalsfjall, where another eruption occurred just last year. Prior to these two eruptions, no eruptions had occurred on the peninsula for nearly 800 years. Both eruptions were preceded by strong earthquakes.

Experts have stated that the Reykjanes peninsula is entering a volcanically active phase, which could mean regular eruptions over the coming decades – or even centuries. Both the Prime Minister and Transport Minister have stated this activity is a consideration when planning the construction of infrastructure such as airports.

Infrastructure currently not at risk

Last year’s Fagradalsfjall eruption was relatively small and did not cause any damage to roads or infrastructure. The same is true of the ongoing eruption so far. “As it stands, the eruption is in a relatively favourable location,” Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated. At the current rate of flow, it will take a significant amount of time for the lava to fill Meradalir valley and flow outward to other areas.

Report expected this autumn

Authorities have been discussing relocating Reykjavík City Airport for decades, and a task force had previously chosen Hvassahraun as the most viable location. This fall, preliminary results are expected from a working group that is evaluating the feasibility of Hvassahraun for a new airport. The group has mapped the impact of possible eruptions on roads, transport and energy infrastructure, and air transport.

Borgarnes and Selfoss previously considered for new airports

“I think that even if one is not a geologist or expert, it is quite clear from the way people have talked about it that we need to prepare for a new reality and that we are going to see earthquakes, or seismic activity or something like that, for a longer period of time [on Reykjanes], and that simply reduces the likelihood that development in this area is considered likely,” Transport Minister Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson told Vísir yesterday, shortly before magma broke through the earth’s surface on Reykjanes.

Asked whether Reykjavík City Airport would remain in its current location for the long term, the Transport Minister pointed out that, in any case, it would take 15-20 years to build an alternate airport at Hvassahraun or elsewhere. Borgarnes, West Iceland, and Selfoss, South Iceland, have both been discussed as potential locations for international airports. Sigurður Ingi stated those sites could be considered in the future.

Baldur Ferry Breaks Down Again, Service May Be Suspended

Breiðafjörður ferry Baldur

The only ferry that sails between West Iceland and the southern Westfjords, Baldur, broke down last Saturday, stranding over 100 passengers some 250 metres from harbour for almost six hours, RÚV reports. This is not the first time the over 40-year-old ship has broken down mid-journey, and the Director of Services at Iceland’s Road and Coastal Administration says she is concerned about safety issues on board the ferry.

Baldur was built in 1979 in Norway, where it transported cars and passengers until it was purchased by Icelandic company Sæferðir around ten years ago. At the time, the company had difficulties registering the ship in Iceland, as the Icelandic Transport Authority doubted its safety. The boat was eventually registered, however, and fulfils legal safety requirements today, according to Jón Gunnar Jónsson, the Transport Authority’s current director.

Repeated breakdowns in recent years

The Road and Coastal Administration is responsible for ferry service across Breiðafjörður bay, but contracts the service out to the company Sæferðir, which owns Baldur. The ship has often had operational issues in recent years. In March 2021, it lost power in the middle of the bay, leaving its crew and passengers stranded for over 24 hours. Its most recent breakdown prior to this one occurred in February: luckily, the ship was in harbour at the time, in Stykkishólmur, West Iceland.

Hope passengers are not in immediate danger

“We are worried about the condition of the ship, but we don’t know the situation perfectly,” stated Bergþóra Kristinsdóttir, director of services at the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration. She stated that it was not yet clear whether there was reason to suspend ferry service at this point in time. “We are monitoring closely and are in good communication with Sæferðir, the operator, and are evaluating the situation,” she told RÚV yesterday.

Asked whether the Road and Coastal Administration believed the safety of passengers was in immediate danger, Bergþóra stated: “We hope not, but we are of course analysing and reviewing all issues. We consider this very serious, and look at this as a serious issue.”

A journalistic investigation conducted by RÚV programme Kveikur in April of this year found multiple safety issues on board Baldur. Many have since been rectified.