The Scottish government has been heavily criticised for its decision to freeze ferry fares after it stopped short of cutting the cost of travel by boat.
Local campaigner Ryan Thomson, who launched a petition earlier this year calling for fares to and from the isles to be reduced, has described as “offensive” comments by made by Transport Minister Humza Yousaf ahead of a planned visit to the isles.
In the run-up to this year’s Scottish parliamentary elections, the SNP made a pre-election pledge that it would reduce the cost of ferry travel.
But the freeze announced today for 2017 is widely seen by some as falling short of that promise.
In a statement released this morning Mr Yousaf said the Scottish government wanted ferry fares to continue to be “affordable”.
That, says Mr Thomson, may come as a slap in the face to families who fork out £500 for travel to the mainland, while other island communities have enjoyed discounts of up to 50 per cent.
Mr Thomson said he was due to meet the minister during his visit to the isles. It comes after his petition, launched in May, which calls for a fairer deal, attracted almost 3,300 signatures.
“I’ll be pushing him [the minister] as much as I can on this decision, and why when promises were made that they were going to look to ‘drive down’ the fares, somehow it’s seen as a success that it’s frozen.
“He [Mr Yousaf] said he wants to keep the freeze on prices to help keep ferry fares affordable. They’re not affordable. That’s the whole point of this petition.
“If you’re a family of five you’re paying nearly £800 just to get to Aberdeen.
“Without a car you’re looking in the region of £500 effectively, just to get to the airport if you’re going abroad. It’s an extortionate amount of money. And to suggest that this type of fare is in any way affordable, particularly when other parts of Scotland are getting a 50 per cent decrease, I think is quite offensive to some people.”
The owner of Tagon Stores in Voe insisted he had lost faith in politicians of all colours and said he now refused to believe any of their pre-election promises.
“Local people have absolutely no faith in what politicians are saying. Anything politicians say, particularly in the run-up to an election, can just be ignored.
“It doesn’t matter what party it is, it’s Joe Blogs, it’s the common man, that suffers from all the promises that are never kept.
“The most worrying thing is … [SIC leader] Gary Robinson saying the freeze was worthwhile. It’s not worthwhile. We’re getting a horrendous deal on our ferry fares compared to the Western Isles. They saw a 50 per cent cut last year. We’re seeing a price freeze and we’re meant to accept that as a positive outcome. It’s not. It’s a bit of a disaster.”
The Scottish government says it has commissioned a report to look specifically at the issue of a new fares policy for ferry services.
• Coverage of the minister’s visit will be included in this week’s Shetland Times.