23rd September 2017

Ferry fares to be cut next year following pledge by Humza Yousaf

The Scottish government has finally delivered on its manifesto promise to cut ferry fares, with a pledge to reduce travel costs from the first half of next year.

Fares for foot passengers will be cut by an average of over 40 per cent, while car fares will be reduced by typically 30 per cent. However, Transport Scotland has made no announcement over cuts to cabin prices.

Minister for Transport and the Islands Humza Yousaf is due to make the announcement during a visit to the isles. Yesterday he was in Fair Isle and is due in Lerwick today.

Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) will be introduced on the Pentland Firth routes, while an RET variant will be brought in on the routes between Aberdeen and Lerwick.

The exact reductions for each route have yet to be finally decided, as decisions on fares for 2018 have still to be taken.

However, the Scottish government says the previous two-tier fare system for islanders and non-islanders will be replaced by a flat rate, which will be in place all year round and capped at the season low islander rate or lower.

Work is being undertaken with the commercial operators on the Pentland Firth with a view to including them in the fares reduction scheme.

Fares on the Northern Isles ferry services were frozen last year, prompting questions at the time over why they could not be immediately cut, thus honouring the SNP’s election promise.

At the time Mr Yousaf said he wanted to offer ferry fare cuts when it was possible to do so.

However, the Minister is scheduled to make an announcement later today. “During my first visit to the Northern Isles as transport minister I committed to ensuring we would reduce ferry fares as soon as practically possible,” he is due to say.

“It was a clear manifesto commitment and I’m very pleased we are now in a position to announce when that pledge will be delivered.

“These significant fare cuts will be rolled out in the first half of 2018.

“It is also our intention to include the commercial operators on the Pentland Firth in this scheme, and we will work with them to put a suitable system in place to allow that to happen.

“This reduction in fares will make ferry travel to and from the Northern Isles even more attractive for islanders and tourists. It also brings fares into line with those on the Clyde and Hebrides network, ensuring parity and supporting our aim of having one overarching fares policy across our ferry services.

“Detailed analysis is being carried out on the potential impact on demand and options to mitigate capacity issues will also be investigated, given the likely rise in passenger numbers.

“The Scottish government is committed to supporting our island communities and this fares reduction scheme will ensure our lifeline ferry services remain affordable for the people that depend on them, whilst also helping support the economy of the Northern Isles.”

Isles MSP Tavish Scott welcomed the announcement, but said covering the cabin costs was “crucial”.

“We all like to book a cabin, or a berth in a cabin. If they’re not cutting that, then they’re not recognising that this is an overnight sailing.

“Any reduction is fine, but I expect the reductions to cover the entire fare that Shetlanders pay to get on the boat.

“It could have been cut last year. It could have been cut when Nicola Sturgeon promised it. Why it’s taken so long is mystifying to most Shetlanders.”

In a statement he added: “Shetland deserves the same reduction in fares that the Scottish government introduced on the west coast of Scotland. Islanders there have benefited from a 50 per cent reduction in fares for some time.

“So it is good news the Scottish government have begun to address the ferry fares discrimination they imposed on the northern isles.

“I trust that once the detail is clear, Shetlanders and the islands economy will also benefit from a 50 per cent fare reduction. The SNP used to say that it wasn’t possible to reduce our ferry fares. Their change of heart is down to the islands refusing to accept no and I pay tribute to everyone across Shetland who has been involved in making that case.”

• The Scottish government has provided representative examples to show how much passengers may be paying from next year.

Its first example, using the RET mechanism and current 2017 fares, shows a trip between Scrabster and Stromness in peak season for two people with a vehicle costing around £42.00, instead of the current prices of £68.46 for islanders and £97.80 for non-islanders.

More relevant for Shetlanders, though, is the second example laid out by Transport Scotland officials.

Using the RET variant mechanism and 2017 fares, it shows a trip between Aberdeen and Lerwick in peak season for two people with a vehicle would cost around £110.00, instead of the current prices of £159.60 for islanders and £228.00 for non-islanders.

• Full coverage of Mr Yousaf’s visit in Friday’s <i>Shetland Times</i>.

About Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor has worked as a reporter since 1995, and has been at The Shetland Times since 2007, covering a wide variety of news topics. Before then he reported for other newspapers in the Highlands, where he was raised, and in Fife, where he began his career with DC Thomson. He also has experience in broadcast journalism with Grampian Television. He has lived in Shetland since 2002, where he harbours an unhealthy interest in old cars and motorbikes.

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31 comments

  1. Steve Jack

    At last, some decent progress on ferry fares from a political party that has kept its election manifesto promise. And it’s not April 1st….

    Reply
  2. Johan Adamson

    Tavish we don’t all ‘like’ to book a cabin. We HAVE TO book a cabin. No one seems to realise that to take bairns across the water overnight without a cabin is nonsense, only ever done by parents in great need and there must be a child protection issue. I tried once as a student to travel without a cabin and it was hellish, freezing and I never did it again. It’s not fair that we are penalised as the only overnight trip (apart from Orkney to Aberdeen where Orcadians could in theory choose to go to Scrabster and make the long drive). I can see why they think a cabin is a luxury on the shorter trips.

    We should all do it – litter the bar area with bairns and belongings and sit up all night in the freezing cold, squeeze between the bits o wid they put up to stop us lying about and making us have to buy a cabin.

    Reply
    • Johan Adamson

      I wonder if there is a legal case to be brought against the government which is making us pay over the odds to provide basic needs to our children ( a bed) during a crossing.

      Reply
      • Brian Smith

        Chuckle.

  3. Fraser Cluness

    Unless they do the same to the price of a cabin it will make no odd to me, the walk on price is fine as it is, its the price of a cabin and the car that stops me going in the boat, especially in the summer when its cheaper to fly and car hire than take your car on the boat. As a single person who books a cabin for myself my last boat trip cost me nearly £600. I challenge the snp leadership to travel on the boat without a bed on a rough night and see how they get on. No bed then I and I’m sure most people in Shetland just don’t go.

    Reply
  4. Ian Tinkler

    Well, that is a start, just how many years has it taken? A good kick up the bum in the Westminster election has at long last got the Nationalists moving. A few more good thumpings and the cabin price may drop also.

    Reply
    • Robert Sim

      At least you are acknowledging that the SNP keeps its promises, Ian.

      Reply
      • ian tinkler

        No Robert, the SNP have done nothing yet. The latest comment from Humza Yousaf , regarding expensive cabins, “Yousaf, told journalists that cabin fares had not been reduced at this stage because there is already a lack of capacity during busy periods and making them cheaper would have exacerbated that.” that comment beggars belief.” The words of a true SNP weasel!! Prey tell me just when demand for cabins will drop so that cabin fairs can be reduced. This man is not credible like so much of his Nationalist pals. It is good however to see Salmond has at last found his true level, a real comedian, lol.

  5. Ali Inkster

    The snp reduced the cost of travelling to the western isles by 50% it seems that the snp and some folk up here think reducing the cost of a trip to Shetland (the most expensive route by far) by at most 15 – 20% is fair and equitable.

    Reply
  6. Wendy Sinclair

    The cabin prices have to come down. Disabled people cannot go without one!!!

    Reply
    • Fraser Cluness

      I’m not disabled and I need a cabin too, I’m not going on that sea ever without a bed. Does the disabled not get extra discount already?

      yes the SNP are blowing their trumpet today how good they are to us. they have no idea what that sea is like without a bed. the chairs may be good if your on an aeroplane, but no use going up and down, side to side in a force 8

      Reply
    • Suzy V Jolly

      “Some” folk with disabilities, not all. Please don’t adopt the ‘royal we’ approach and speak for all of us. I agree with your sentiment that cabin prices have to come down.

      Reply
  7. Paul fowler

    On the long over night sailing a cabin is a necessity for the majority of travelers.
    It is unfortunate however that they don’t seem to understand the cost implication of relatives coming north to visit during the school holidays when the prices are high peak and family and friends discount cannot be used and therefore makes a mockery of the family and friends discount scheme offered for those with children.

    Reply
  8. Barbara Gray

    If we are going to lose our islanders discount, and the price of cabins is staying the same, how much better off are we going to be. I, like many others can’t travel with out a cabin so how much benefit will islanders actually get.

    Reply
  9. Michael Inkster

    This looks like it will be a step in the right direction. However, the ferry fare comprises one, two or possibly three constituent parts, namely:- (a) the passenger fare element, which is unavoidable, (b) the cabin cost, an optional necessity in most cases and (c) the vehicle fare.
    Reducing the cost of any of the above, for anyone other than foot passengers, is surely likely to have a bearing upon the demand for cabins as passengers travelling with or without a vehicle will look at the overall cost of travelling rather than the specifics of how it is broken down. To that extent it doesn’t really matter where the discount is applied.
    The main problem with the ferries is that they are simply not fit for purpose in terms of their cabin capacity, particularly at peak times, and until that issue is addressed these relatively modest overall discounts are likely all that any administration can reasonably do without exacerbating the issues that arise from a shortage of cabin capacity at these times.

    Reply
  10. Tony Erwood

    I recently booked a return journey from Lerwick to Aberdeen with Serco-Northlink and from Newcastle to Amsterdam with DFDS. Both bookings were for two adults, a car and an outside 2-berth cabin. The DFDS booking cost £290. To make a fair comparison, the Serco-Northlink booking without Islander discount is £580, that is double the DFDS booking. Given that Serco get a large government subsidy to run the Aberdeen/Kirkwall/Lerwick ferry service, I would have expected Serco-Northlink to be cheaper than DFDS, not twice as expensive !

    Reply
    • Alvin Leong

      And Newcastle to Amsterdam is 50% further away than Aberdeen to Lerwick!

      Reply
  11. Peter Hamilton

    I was once asked by a Scottish Office transport civil servant how well cheaper advance fares would go down for the ferries. Scary.

    What needs to be asserted, Scotland wide, is the right to be able to get to the nearest main population centre, such as Aberdeen for us, quickly, affordably at short notice. The weather means Shetland needs air and sea passenger services.

    The scarcity of berths and flights is deliberate, needed to secure profits for competing private firms, but subsidising Flybe to compete with Northlink and Loganair makes little sense, wasting public funds.

    Interesting to see Tavish now accepts the market does not always deliver. The problem is in the set up he devised, the passenger is a commodity, there to provide private profit. If the boats and planes were run by one nationalised company, with surplus capacity, it would be possible to swap over tickets and lay on extra services with ease. This we need.

    Big thinking needs to take place before the next boat tender – including the need for purpose built vessels. The public purse funds roads and rail links on the mainland. It needs to provide us with viable alternatives too.

    Reply
  12. Johan Adamson

    I always thought this was subsidised as a lifeline service. As such, they should never have been pricing islanders out of the market on cabins. Shocked to learn (but should have realised) there was never any islander discount on the cabins, bizarrely, as everything else is discounted. If anything, it is taking the car which is the luxury, not being able to put your bairns to bed or expecting a bed overnight yourself. It is sad that actually a cabin on E deck with P&O was preferable to no cabin or extortionate cabin with Northlink.

    Reply
  13. David Spence

    I am surprised nobody has ever mentioned when Serco took over, one of the first things they did was to slash the islanders allowance by 15%? I believe, although I may be wrong, this cut was inline with other discounts towards travelling in other parts of Scotland, which I believe is 10%?

    However, Serco have also increased the cost of a fare overall, the cost of a cabin and the cost of eating has gone up as well. So, if you take into account all the increases which have happened since Serco took over, it is not surprising the people of Shetland are, quite rightly, complaining about the costs of getting off/on the islands.

    It would not surprise me at all, any reduction in the cost of a ferry fare (whether walk on, cabin, car etc) will be off-set within a few months by Serco increasing such costs………..to which most people will probably will not notice.

    Shetlander’s, overall, generally do not complain…….go with the flow, as they say………but Serco has certainly been testing this ever since they ran the Lifeline Services.

    It would not surprise me, once Bex*hit gets going, Serco have the contract permanently.

    Reply
  14. Christopher Johnston

    I caution you to not be so optimistic. Politician’s chatter and promises mean nothing. Watch like a hawk what they do.

    Reply
    • Brian Smith

      And dear old Christopher is the character who tells us he adores Donald Trump …

      Reply
      • Christopher Johnston

        Brian Smith, again your memory fails you. I never wrote I adored Donald Trump; I did write I preferred him over Hillary Clinton.
        Please feel free to believe every politician’s idle promise if it brings you solace.

  15. John Tulloch

    And you are the same Brian Smith, are you not, who lambasted Labour and exhorted Shetlanders to vote ‘Tartan Tory’ in the June election?

    “Chuckle”.

    Reply
    • Brian Smith

      And my goodness, is yun old JT, dat advised da Shetland electorate to vote Lib-Dem for ferry-fare reductions an Brexit! 😉

      Reply
      • John Tulloch

        For an historian, your presentation of facts is pretty ‘loose’, old ‘BS’ 🙂

        I supported Tavish Scott in 2016 and faced with a similar situation, would do the same again. That was a good decision.

        You may recall Tavish’s powerful campaign on ferry fares (late 2015-early 2016) which, as I recall, attracted about 3000 petition signatures. Few others were in the fray at that time however many have climbed aboard, since.

        He has consistently fought on ferry fares and deserves considerable credit, along with others, for what has been achieved to date.

        The underlying objective was to prevent Shetland falling into the clammy clutches of the SNP and to maintain good representation. The Lib Dems were the best option, their Shetland track record being pretty good, especially, versus that of your SNP friends, which is abominable.

        All the parties in the 2016 election were anti-Brexit so your point about that is meaningless and the SNP’s resounding rejection this June by Shetlanders appears to have resulted in a reduction in ferry fares – a veritable epihany!

        Were that not so, fares would have fallen before the election – after all, political naivety isn’t something the SNP can be accused of.

  16. ian tinkler

    Poor Miriam, Brian’s adoration of her was probably the final nail in her election coffin. MS Black’s endorsement probably started the rot. Mind you, the vindictive nonsense of “the Orkney Four” et al, gave Ali C a huge boost. Nearly forgot Miriam’s PR Guru, Dr J Wills Now that one is worth a chuckle or perhaps a raucous lol.

    Reply
    • Johan Adamson

      It is a shame that Labour (and the Lib dems for that matter) can no longer attract young talent such as Miriam and Mhairi. I am sure they will do so again.

      Reply
      • Fraser Cluness

        Made no odds as they weren’t enough people voted for snp anyway, regardless of her age

  17. wayne conroy

    Not sure how this is a step forward for locals unless they want to take a car. No friends and family discount, no cabin price decrease. All foot fares now at low season islander rate – so whats the saving there for a local without a car onboard… a few pound in peak season? All this after the price rises, charges for reclining seats and food price increases. Im sure it may encourage visitors to Shetland which is a good thing but how about the promises to actually help out the locals by reducing the fares for the people that need to use the boat? What happened to keeping that promise?

    It seems to me the true winners will be Serco. Tourists will get cheaper foot travel and once on board they will realise they need a cabin and be a trapped customer for expensive food and drink. So less cabins for locals in peak travel times and less space for those without a cabin. All subsidised by the government into Sercos pocket.

    Just another pathetic attempt by the SNP to pacify the locals and their request for a fair lifeline service cost as given to other Western Scottish Islands.

    Reply
  18. Peter Hamilton

    Putting party political jibes aside, Johan’s focus on the actual needs of a travelling family is helpful. There are times when safe travel at short notice is a necessity for other human rights to be achieved for adults and children. If this could be established in law the obligations of the Scottish government could be clarified. Either way, the government should accept an obligation to connect islanders safely and affordably at short notice to mainland transport options, and that means affordable day time sailings, or a surplus of affordable overnight cabins and sufficient capacity to allow for some standby flights daily. Be reasonable. Demand what is needed.

    Reply

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