A radical change to NorthLink’s sailings to Shetland was proposed by the company’s chief executive at this week’s SIC external transport forum.
Bill Davidson said that additional daytime crossings to and from Kirkwall during the summer months could alleviate the problem of cabin restraints in busier periods.
To balance the cost of these extra journeys, there would be fewer sailings during the winter dry-dock period.
The idea was first suggested by coach tour operator Andrew Morrison at a ZetTrans meeting in September 2008 as a solution to problems he was having securing passenger bookings for his clients.
Mr Morrison said at the time the idea “. . . would take some of the pressure off the cabins for the next sailing, and would make more sense for tourist operators.”
ZetTrans network development manager Ken Duerden was initially sceptical, saying that it “would require an adjustment to the operating contract”.
However, after a plan to introduce couchettes as an alternative to cabins failed, the idea is back on the table and an adjustment has been found in the form of cutting back on winter crossings.
The loss of one sailing a week during the winter dry dock period, which currently only as three sailings a week, would save the company substantial money in harbour dues, fuel and running costs, thus enabling them to run the increased day time sailings.
The idea would also help a problem voiced by councillor Gary Robinson, who said that, while the work done by NorthLink to promote Shetland should be commended, the impact of increased tourism on cabin availability could be a problem for locals also wanting to travel during the summer months.
Mr Robinson said: “I don’t want to see islanders having to sleep on the floor, for example, because of a lack of berths.”
Councillor Iris Hawkins raised concerns at how viable the link is, questioning how many people would be willing to make this trip and how often, and the impact the loss of winter sailings would have on what is a life line service for islanders.
Mr Davidson said he thought the route could be an attractive option to wandering tour groups, or those looking to travel on a budget. Any tourists who chose to take this route would inevitably relieve pressure on the amount travelling at night, freeing up cabin space for anyone wishing to travel to Shetland directly.
In relation to those travelling in winter, Mr Davidson said the vast majority were either Shetlanders or those with connections in the isles, who should, providing they know in advance, be able to adjust their travel arrangements to fit in with a new timetable.
Mr Davidson added that he thought that the changes could be put in place as early as 2010.
Councillor Caroline Miller said she thought it was important that the idea be put forward for public consultation. ZetTrans chairman Alan Wishart agreed and said it would be a priority.