SHETLAND’S transport authority has joined forces with its Highland-based equivalent to seek a 40 per cent reduction in ferry fares across Scotland.
Zetrans chairman Allan Wishart says the calls made on Monday by islanders in Argyll represent a fairer deal for passengers seeking to travel by boat.
He said hacking 40 per cent off fares would equate to a similar amount that passengers will soon be able to save by travelling to the Western Isles under the Scottish Government’s controversial Road Equivalent Tariff scheme (RET).
The Nationalist government came under fire for excluding Orkney and Shetland, as well as island communities in Argyll and Bute, from its three year pilot project.
Critics described the move as blatant political pandering by the SNP, who they said were simply trying to curry favour with Western Isles voters.
Now, with the project not expected to draw any conclusions until 2011, island residents excluded by RET say they can not afford to wait much longer for a better deal of ferry fares.
An e-petition has been launched campaigning for “a minimum discount of 40 per cent on all ferry fares”.
Mr Wishart said Zetrans had been approached by Hitrans chief Duncan MacIntyre to ask if the Shetland authority would support it.
“It’s quite a big reduction, but 40 per cent is quite close to the saving RET would allow someone going to the Western Isles anyway,” he said.
“I can understand that people might feel aggrieved as well. When the RET was first launched they were talking about a trial period of one year.
“Now they are talking about three years, and I think Tavish Scott was right when he said there was a certain amount of political manoeuvring going on.
“The rest of us are feeling quite aggrieved that a trial running for so long could have quite an adverse impact on the other islands from a business point of view, and from a tourism point of view as well.
“If you were a tourist looking to go to one of the islands, the reality is with RET you would probably go to Stornoway instead of Shetland.”
Mr Scott said he supported the moves being made, and said the Argyll islands and the Northern Isles were being “disadvantaged” by SNP policy.
“I remain very disappointed that the current government continue to take blatant political decisions that discriminate against some island groups in favour of others,” he said.
He added that, while working as transport minister under the previous government, he had introduced the air discount scheme to all areas.
Speaking to The Shetland Times, Mr MacIntyre said it was concerned residents, and not Hitrans, who had instigated the petition.