26th March 2019
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Group travellers say costs have risen between 20 and 40 per cent under Serco

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Community and sporting groups have faced an increase in ferry fares since Serco took over the running of the North Boats, a survey by Shetland Islands Council has revealed.

SIC environment and transport committee chairman Allan Wishart said on-line results broadly indicated a 20 to 40 per cent hike per journey.

He criticised the ferry operator’s application system for concessionary travel as being “inflexible”, and highlighted shortfalls in the operator’s group discount scheme despite Serco’s decision to increase it from 30 to 50 per cent.

The council launched the survey last month following concerns over the cost of travel and accommodation choices for groups, such as sports clubs and school groups.

The results have shown that 54 per cent of groups responding to the survey stated that their travel costs had risen by more than 20 per cent since 1st January. Thirty-one per cent said costs had risen by over 30 per cent while under eight per cent thought the cost of travel had dropped.

Mr Wishart said the findings needed broader analysis, but should be taken back to Serco and Transport Scotland.

 “It’s not very surprising that it has shown an increase of cost. The thing to remember about these results is there are so many variables, and it depends on the age of the competitors travelling, the time of the year … all of these things make a relatively significant impact on the overall cost.

“But the big picture is that there has been an increase in costs.”

Mr Wishart was critical of the group discount scheme which fails to offer a reduction on cabins or vehicles. While the old 30 per cent discount was based on low season rates, the new offer is based on applicable rates at the time of travel, including mid and high season rates.

“Although the discount went up to 50 per cent, that applied only to fares – not to accommodation, or indeed cars or vehicles. The previous discounts from old NorthLink were applied to winter prices, whatever time of year they travelled.

“Of course, there was a general agreement that the accommodation was good. There was no problem with the service provided. It’s the cost in the system that seems to be the problem.

“We’ve learned that the application process is cumbersome. It’s thought to be too inflexible because there are only two application times per annum, and during that time the events can change. You can get change in the people travelling because circumstances arise, and substitutes can not attract the same discounts.”

Mr Wishart said he welcomed the response to the survey, which has seen 25 groups get in touch to put across their views.

“Twenty-five groups. When you think about athletics, rugby, football and swimming, I think 25 is quite a good number. There was certainly a lot of interest in it.”


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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  1. Colin Hunter

    I would like to pose one question.
    Is it morally acceptable that Serco, or any other firm for that matter, should be allowed to make a profit running a lifeline ferry route that is so heavily subsidised by the taxpayer? Surely any “profit” should be ploughed back into the service, or reclaimed by the Scottish Government.

  2. Harry Dent

    Well said, Mr Hunter.

    My current beef with Serco is the two weeks it took them to answer an email of complaint. Customer service clearly is not one of the company’s strongest values.


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