By RYAN TAYLOR
Details have emerged of how NorthLink’s plans for daytime sailings to Orkney and back could impact on the current service to and from the mainland.
A proposal from the ferry operator has been sent to the council’s transport authority ZetTrans, and became the topic of discussion at a meeting in the Town Hall on Monday.
The radical idea, which was proposed by NorthLink’s chief executive Bill Davidson last month at an external transport forum, promises to help alleviate the problem of cabin restraints during busy periods.
Should the plans go ahead NorthLink said it would have to reduce its winter service for up to 13 weeks to help cover the cost.
Under the proposal, during busier spells the boat would arrive at Holmsgarth at 7am, 30 minutes earlier than usual. At 8.30am the boat would set off for Orkney, arriving at Kirkwall at 1pm.
It would start its return journey to Lerwick an hour and a half later, berthing at Holmsgarth for the second time that day at 6pm.
Passengers arriving at the terminal for the evening sailing south would then have an hour to get on board before the boat departs again at 7pm.
NorthLink said the service would only operate on days when the vessel was not scheduled to call at Kirkwall en route to Aberdeen.
That would mean the day crossings would operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays or Sundays, with fares set at £20.40 for an adult and £84.60 for a car.
During the winter, NorthLink proposes operating its reduced dry docking timetable in the quieter weeks, which would see the boat arrive every second day.
It is not known yet exactly which weeks would be allocated for the service to be cut, although the company said only weeks which are known to be particularly quiet will be chosen.
Most of the freight coming to Shetland would continue to arrive on the Hascosay and Clare, as is the case at the moment.
However concerns were raised that time-critical freight such as food supplies, which do go on the passenger ferry to arrive in the shops first thing, would be delayed.
Chief executive of Lerwick Port Authority Sandra Laurenson said the freight ferries were often held up when the weather was bad, meaning freight often did not arrive in Lerwick until the afternoon.
“The freighters can’t maintain speed, so they don’t arrive until lunchtime when it’s adverse weather, which is not what supermarkets are looking for.”
Josie Simpson said poor weather would result in cancellations, which could have a bad impact on the Shetland service.
Although proposed by Mr Davidson, the idea was first highlighted 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.
Speaking to The Shetland Times this week, Mr Morrison – who uses the boat regularly when he takes tour parties south – said the proposal from NorthLink still left Shetland at a disadvantage compared with Orkney.
“They’ve missed the point. Really, we need to get rid of the requirement of a boat going to Orkney at all,” he said.
“Now they are going to have extra sailings it proves there is an Orkney bias giving Orkney a huge advantage over Shetland.
“What they seem to be saying now is that they are putting this on in addition to three nights a week. The weekend service we get is dreadful, and if we are getting this as well it’s not going to be to Shetland’s advantage whatsoever.
“Orkney has nine to 10 different services a day for people to get to the mainland. They say we can use that service directly, but it’s missing the point completely. We need a nightly Lerwick to Aberdeen service.”