As the original architect of the road equivalent tariff (RET) concept (Roads to the Isles, HIDB, 1974) I can hardly believe the ineptness of Tavish Scott’s attack on the extension of the RET trial in the Western Isles by a year. The reason that the Western Isles was selected for this trial was that that archipelago has suffered chronic and accelerating depopulation over the last two or three decades and that ferry charges were higher and frequencies less than for most other Scottish islands.
What is astonishing is that Tavish Scott claims that Orkney and Shetland are in some way disadvantaged by this move. He seems to forget that the fares between Shetland, Orkney and Aberdeen are at a level below RET and that the level of subsidy at £33 million is believed to be the world’s highest for such a ferry service. Shetland is also blessed with its internal ferries which are undoubtedly Scotland’s best in terms of fares, frequency and hours of operation. I don’t recall the representatives of the Western Isles complaining that Orkney and Shetland were getting a better deal when these arrangements were put in place. In the light of these comparisons how can it be claimed that the Northern Isles are at a disadvantage as Tavish Scott claims?
The purpose of the RET trial was to test what economists call the price elasticity of demand and its effects. It was recognised from the start that the original two-and-a-half years was barely sufficient to ascertain the effect on island economies and their social well being. That is the reason for the year’s extension. We must wait to see the result but my guess is that RET, as a concept from the 1970s, will not prove to be universally applicable and that a more sophisticated system that better reflects the balance between costs and benefits will emerge to the benefit of all.
It is worth bearing in mind that Scotland’s fastest growing, least polluting and most successful ferry route is that operated on the short frequent crossing between Caithness and Orkney by Pentland Ferries. The 35 per cent traffic growth there over the last two years has been achieved without a penny of public subsidy and without RET. RET is not the be all and end all.
This is a time for looking at the facts and not for hollow political posturing. As regards RET Tavish Scott has clearly got his facts seriously wrong.
Roy N Pedersen
8 Drummond Road,