Serco has come under renewed fire over changes to its fare discount scheme which have forced some groups to pay extra for ferry travel south.
Lerwick Community Council plans to write to Scottish ministers arguing disabled people, pensioners and students under-19 should, once again, be given the same concessionary rate they previously enjoyed.
It emerged in March concessions on the normal islander fare had been reduced from 25 per cent to 10 per cent as stipulated in the ferry contract – although the news had not been publicly announced ahead of that month’s external transport forum meeting.
Community councillors in the town met last night and were angered by the move. They want the government to look at the concessionary rate again.
They are also seeking the reintroduction of a so-called group islander discount, which was offered to sporting or community groups.
The discount has effectively been replaced by the new community sponsorship scheme, for which applications must be made.
Members argued the former system should be reinstated, even though the 10 per cent discount is the national concessionary level agreed by the Scottish government.
It followed a strongly-worded letter from Isles MSP Tavish Scott to Serco’s chief executive, Stuart Garrett.
Mr Scott said argued the decision could lead to changes in passenger numbers.
“I believe that the group islander discount was a very useful and helpful mechanism for community and sporting groups,” he stated.
“I note with amazement that there is some acceptance that the ‘new’ sponsorship replaces the group islander discount.
“I am puzzled by this because you personally confirmed to Liam [McArthur] and I that the previous NorthLink company ran both the group discount and an additional sponsorship scheme.
“I can assure you that I continue to receive representations observing many worries about this change and the increased costs that will now apply.
“I think this is a bad move which, I appreciate, has been endorsed by Transport Scotland and the Transport Minister.
“In addition, and equally disturbing, you chose not to tell Liam and I that Serco were reducing the discount rate for pensioners, students and disabled people from 25 per cent to 10 per cent. I hope Serco appreciate that Shetlanders now pay more and in these cases, people who have less to spend on transport pay more.
“I would therefore ask that Serco provides figures for the change in passenger numbers in these categories when the annual passenger statistics are available.”
A separate letter from Serco’s customer care manager, James Linklater, to Lerwick Community Council’s clerk, Katrina Semple, argued the company operated a number of discounts which were specified and funded by the Scottish government.
He urged the community council to contact ZetTrans.
Community councillor Andy Carter told fellow members he had already fallen foul of the changes.
He booked and paid for a trip in January. But before he could make his return in April, he was contacted by Serco, who were seeking an additional £30.
“I told them I was going to take it up with Trading Standards, and I’ve heard nothing from them,” he said.
Stewart Hay argued that if Serco were clear on their position they would not have referred the community council to Shetland’s transport department.