Pensioners could lose their free trips on Shetland’s inter-island ferries and children may see their fares doubled.
Passenger and domestic vehicle fares could also be increased by more than 15 per cent for those buying non multi-journey tickets.
Councillors will be asked to approve the measures next week in the latest instalment of an ongoing, root-and-branch review of ferries being carried out by the local authority. Consultation with the public, staff and unions is continuing on bigger, more controversial and potentially damaging ferry cuts.
The finalised ferries review, proposing savings of up to £2.8 million a year from the £13 million annual budget, will go before councillors in December. The ultimate decision on where the axe should fall is due to be taken six days before Christmas.
In an interim report going before a special SIC meeting on Wednesday, members will be presented with a list of changes either already carried out or requiring their approval to save just under £1 million a year. The council says these are “operational efficiencies which can be implemented quickly with minimal service impact”.
Councillors are being asked to back the introduction of a new concessionary fare for over-60s Shetland residents, who currently pay nothing at all. At £1 for a return ticket, pensioners would pay less than quarter of the price an adult does. A child’s return fare would rise from 50p to £1. Both young and old would have to stump up £5 for a multi-journey ticket covering 10 returns.
Steps will be taken to clamp down on passengers who skip paying their fare, presumably by ensuring that ticket collectors are more vigilant.
Passenger returns could rise from £4.30 to £5, while a vehicle’s return trip could rise in cost from £10 to £12.50. A new £15-a-ticket tourist fare for visitors to Fair Isle, significantly higher than the normal £4.10 rate, is set to be introduced.
The need to retain relief vessels will be reviewed, with the likelihood of the Thora being removed from service and sold in 2015. That is likely to net a one-off £150,000 and a yearly saving of £141,000.
Measures already being enacted include deleting a handful of jobs, better management of sea staff holidays and sourcing cheaper fuel contracts. Most councillors yesterday attended a seminar to hear where the deeper cuts could fall. One member said afterwards that the whole thing looked “pretty draconian” and would be “difficult to swallow” for beleaguered island communities.
North Isles councillor Robert Henderson has previously warned that his constituency could become devoid of young folk if spending on ferries falls too steeply. “There is a fear in the isles that if ferry services are cut, they will be tied to their home patch for a significant part of the day. Young people will be the first to vote with their feet,” he said this summer.
Nearly £2 million could be saved on the Bluemull Sound and Yell Sound routes which keep Fetlar, Yell and Unst folk connected to the Mainland. Over £1 million would come from the Yell Sound route, either by reducing the service from two ships to one except at morning peak times, or by going down to a single ship operation at all times.
The option of going down to one vessel on the Bluemull Sound route, sidelining the Geira, remains in the mix. So does reintroducing fares on the Unst service, although the entire fare structure for all ferries will also come under the microscope.
Little was left off the table when the council launched a series of public consultations on ferry cuts back in June. Already some 31 money-saving ideas have been abandoned because they were impractical, required too high a financial outlay or would not result in savings.
Among the measures which will not happen, for now at least, are: stationing vessels at alternative terminals; introducing a chain ferry on the Lerwick-Bressay route; replacing Fair Isle’s Good Shepherd with a new purpose-built vessel; combining the outer isles services to Fair Isle, Foula and Papa Stour; and building a council-owned dry dock.
SIC development committee chairman Alastair Cooper said yesterday: “While there has been a significant change since we started this process in the amount of savings we are now required to make, we are absolutely committed to developing and delivering an efficient and sustainable inter-island ferry service.”