Scott blasts ferry service ‘bribe’

Bressay Ferry Fivla Coming In
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott wants inter-island ferries to be considered under the road equivalent tariff scheme.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott has criticised the Scottish government after a scheme offering cheaper ferry fares on the west coast was not extended to the Northern Isles.

The road equivalent tariff scheme has operated in the Western Isles since 2008 and was introduced in Islay, Colonsay and Gigha two years ago. Islanders in Arran will benefit from the scheme – which links ferry fares to the cost of travelling an equivalent distance on land – when it is introduced there in the autumn.

This week the Scottish government announced that the scheme would be rolled out to a further 14 ferry routes next year, including services in Barra, Mull, Eigg, Raasay, Cumbrae, Muck and Rum.

But there is no sign of the RET, which applies to passenger fares, as well as cars, small commercial vehicles and coaches, being introduced in Shetland and Orkney.

Mr Scott claimed the Northern Isles had been ignored and said this week’s announcement was an “independence bribe”. He said island councils in Shetland and Orkney must be left wondering why they speak to the Scottish government.

While not pressing the case for RET on the North Boats Mr Scott plans to ask whether the government has had any discussions with the SIC and OIC over road equivalent tariff (RET) for the islands’ internal ferries.

He said: “Our Islands Our Future (OIOF) is meant to be a serious negotiation with government over the assistance Shetland needs for our economic future. Transport is always top of that list.

“So it beggars belief that the SNP announce another independence bribe for the west coast but ignore our islands.

“Road equivalent tariff might help Shetland’s internal ferry services as fares are increasingly prohibitive. Yet the SNP government have not even offered our council any assistance on this.

“RET might mean lower ferry fares for local people. That would be a significant help for hard-pressed island economies.

“Shetlanders will wonder what the point of OIOF is following this decision. Islanders now ask me if there is a blatant policy of nationalist discrimination against the northern isles in the run up to the independence referendum in September.”

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur joined Mr Scott in levelling criticism at the government. He said introduction of the RET in the Northern Isles would reduce the cost of getting to and from the islands and bring associated economic and social benefits.

Mr McArthur insisted that should be a “key commitment” of any government but must be done “on the basis of fairness to all”.

He said: “Spending millions of pounds of public money targeting a scheme at some islands but not others will strike most people as unfair an unacceptable.”

However, Transport Scotland insisited introducing the RET for the Northern Isles would increase the fares due to the longer distances involved.

In a message sent to The Shetland Times by a communications official the department stated: “We have made a commitment that no one will pay more for an RET fare than their current standard single fare, therefore the intention is to phase in the introduction of RET to the Northern Isles over a longer timeframe.

“We are committed to an overarching fares policy and are considering how any such formula might best be implemented between various communities across the network.”

Announcing the extension of the RET to the remaining ferry routes in the Clyde and Hebrides ferry service earlier in the week, transport minsiter Keith Brown said it would deliver “significant fare reductions” from the start of the 2015/16 winter timetable.

Mr Brown said: “We have already seen the positive impact of RET on other ferry routes around Scotland – this further roll out is expected to bring similar economic and tourism benefits.”

Mr Brown anticipated that the reduced fares would lead to a spike in demand for the services. “The Scottish government remains committed to assessing the affordability of ferry travel to and from our island communities, with the aim of bringing in cheaper fares for islanders, tourists and businesses,” he added.


Add Your Comment
  • Donald Murray

    • May 28th, 2014 13:33

    It should be noted that the RET extension – even to these islands – begins in October.

    Call me cynical but …

  • Johan Adamson

    • May 28th, 2014 15:28

    Can anyone explain why the RET reduces fares in the west but would not be a positive move for Orkney and Shetland? The cost of a family plus cabin and car on Northlink is now almost prohibitive, and you are cheaper on the plane.

    • Bill Adams

      • May 29th, 2014 15:57

      The whole point of Road Equivalent Tarriff is to reduce the cost of ferry travel to the cost of travel by an
      equivalent distance by road. That does reduce the cost of ferry fares on the relatively short West Coast routes. However, such are the distances involved on the Northlink routes from Shetland & Orkney to Aberdeen that RET would actually increase our already high fares. Unfortunately it is a fact of geography that Shetland is a long way from the mainland resulting in high fares.

  • Rosa Steppanova

    • May 28th, 2014 23:44

    Could Tavish Scott please explain why he is not “pressing” for road equivalent tariff for Shetland?

  • Barbara Gray

    • May 29th, 2014 9:33

    The is no excuse for the RET not applying to the inter island ferries. Of course there are no votes for the SNP here which may be a consideration.

  • David Spence

    • May 29th, 2014 9:45

    Just finished watching the scottish news on BBC1, and how certain islander ferry routes from mainland Scotland to these islands in the north west of Scotland are getting as much as 40% discount on the cost of the trip. I am intrigued, and if anybody can shed further light onto the subject, how this compares with the service Serco is providing and the comparable costs to us islanders here on Shetland as well as the Orkney’s?

  • John Jamieson

    • May 29th, 2014 20:51

    I wonder why the island MSPs did not get RET underway when they were in power at Holyrood ?
    I think that RET was set at £5 plus 50p per mile which meant that it was more than the car fare on NorthLink at the time, although it may have changed since then to reverse the position.
    Just returned from a trip up north with a call along Mull last week end, 500 yards on the Corran Ferry cost us £14 return and the five day return on the 2 to 3 mile crossing from Lachaline to Fishnish was £36. (On the southern route the twenty or so miles from Oban to Craignure is near enough £100 for a return.)

    • John Tulloch

      • May 30th, 2014 11:19

      Surely it should relate to the full, reasonable, cost of the overnight journey, not just the car fare?

      • John Jamieson

        • May 31st, 2014 9:04

        I should have said that the passenger fare was included in RET at £2 + 10p per mile.
        I would not dare venture into a discussion into the minefield as to what constitutes the full, reasonable, cost of the overnight journey other than to say that from Edinburgh I visit family in Wales more often than Shetland because of the travel costs.

  • Barry Nisbet

    • May 30th, 2014 11:24

    Taking the comparable rates for RET ferry travel in the Western Isles, I calculate that it would cost me £218.85 to bring my Berlingo van one way from Aberdeen to Lerwick if RET was in place. RET passenger fare would be about £37.20. Cabin price would be presumably unchanged.

    Scrabster – Stromness would work out at about £48.75 for a vehicle and £4.80 for a passenger each way under RET.

    Benefits may exist on inter-island travel, depending on the fixed rate applied to cover maintenance and terminal provision (if this remained the same as CalMac’s £23.55 we would all be paying a lot more.)

    Draw your own conclusions but I would not get too upset about this!

  • Ali Inkster

    • May 31st, 2014 13:25

    RET call it whit du liks, it is a discount on da actual cost, so whar is wir discount? Funny whit wye dae can figure out a wye ta get wir oil n gas sooth, an dir even gaen ta fin a wye ta get wir electric fae da windyspiels sooth yet dae canna figure oot a wye ta mak treval atween Shetland an da UK affordable fir aa. me last flight aff da rock cost ower £500 non tranferable. Better aff clear o da lot o dem.

  • Douglas Tott

    • August 11th, 2014 16:21

    In December 2009 I received a newsletter from George Lyon Lib Dem MEP urging that RET should be introduced to the Northlink sailings. I sent an email telling him that the fares on Northlink would increase in cost by 40% if RET was also introduced to the Northlink sailings. That was last time that George Lyon ever mentioned it.
    I live on Islay and prior to the introduction of RET we could purchase a 6 journey ticket for our car and likewise for foot passengers which worked out at 2 single crossings free (one return trip) per 6 journey ticket.
    With the introduction of RET the 6 journey tickets were scrapped and the saving on a car journey worked out at 90p one way.
    In my opinion the Scottish Government made a big mistake with the rules regarding RET on the Calmac sailings. The RET reduction should only be for all return journeys departing from the Scottish islands plus all business and commercial vehicles departing from either the islands or the mainland ports. RET fares should not be available for holidaymakers visiting the islands.
    The residents of Orkney and Shetland are very fortunate that they have different fares for different periods of the year which is something that does not happen on the Calmac sailings.
    I noticed on the Northlink website that all passengers aged 60 and over receive a 10% discount on the Northlink fares plus residents of Orkney and Shetland also receive a 30% discount on the published Northlink fares.
    You currently have a great deal on Northlink compared with RET fares on Calmac. Tavish Scott should keep quiet and not “rock the boat”.
    Your local MP Alasdair Carmichael comes from Islay and he should know how the RET fares from Kennacraig to Islay compare with the cost of the Northlink fares for local residents from Aberdeen to Orkney/Shetland as I have seen him on the Calmac ferry to Islay on a couple of occasions.
    The last thing you want is the SNP Transport Minister Keith Brown introducing RET fares on Northlink sailings.

    • Robert Duncan

      • August 12th, 2014 12:22

      Excellent post, Mr Tott. This whole affair strikes me as the Lib Sam’s trying to score points against the SNP, rather than thinking simply about what suits the needs of their constituents.


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