Fares on the Northern Isles ferry services will be frozen as work to ultimately cut ticket prices continues, the Scottish government’s Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf, has announced.
Transport Scotland says prices will be kept on hold for 2017 as the SNP government works towards reducing fares in the Northern Isles network.
Future fare levels are already being considered as part of the STAG study into the Northern Isles ferry services.
However, a further report has been commissioned to look specifically at the issue of a new fares policy for the network.
The Scottish government says consultation will be a “key part” of the work being undertaken, to better understand local views.
Mr Yousaf is visiting Orkney and Shetland, hearing more about the “opportunities and challenges” of island life.
Mr Yousaf said: “We want these vital services to continue to be accessible and affordable, so keeping ticket prices on hold next keeping ticket prices on hold next year will help achieve that.
“We have made a key commitment to cut fares on ferry services to the Northern Isles and we continue to work towards that goal. I have commissioned a study to look specifically at fares on Northern Isles routes, with a view to bringing in a new pricing
policy and ultimately reducing the cost of ferry travel.
“The Northern Isles present a number of challenges for a new fares policy. As we have said before, bringing in Road Equivalent Tariff would significantly increase the ticket prices on the majority of services. The presence of a commercial operator on some routes complicates matters.
“So I will be asking my officials to engage and meet with the local councils, elected members, community groups and other key stakeholders to discuss the potential options available to us.
“The Scottish government is committed to empowering our island communities, which is why I’m meeting with local people to discuss the issues that really matter to people living and working on Scottish Islands.
“Last year’s Islands Bill consultation sought views on island-proofing, additional powers for island councils and the introduction of a National Islands Plan, and the views expressed are currently under consideration.”
However, the announcement has been given a mixed reaction by local politicians.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott says passengers will be “desperately disappointed” that promised cuts to fares by the SNP in the run-up to the Scottish elections have not been delivered.
“The ferry service to Aberdeen is our lifeline – our motorway to the Scottish mainland. More than 3,000 local people have supported a petition that asked the SNP to maintain their election commitment to ferry fare cuts made with great fanfare by Nicola Sturgeon in Lerwick in April.
“This has now been abandoned. Islanders will not forget that the SNP cut ferry fares on Scotland’s west coast by 50 per cent. We are all asking why the Northern Isles are not getting the same. I do not find this announcement fair, reasonable or in any way acceptable.”
Shetland Islands Council’s political leader, Gary Robinson, welcomed the news.
“A freeze on the cost of ferry travel will obviously have a positive impact for both private and commercial users and is a worthwhile step in the right direction.
“The Commission on Tackling Inequalities confirmed that transport is a significant factor in the high cost of living on our islands and creates barriers to travel for many. We’re pleased to note that the Scottish government has reiterated its commitment to cutting ticket prices and look forward to seeing this process through.
“A considerable amount of work has already been done by Shetland and Orkney Islands Councils, the Regional Transport Partnerships and Our Islands Our Future, together with Transport Scotland, to get us to this stage. I’d like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to those joint efforts and look forward to seeing that positive relationship continue.”
Mr Yousaf is due to take a trip round the North Mainland tomorrow afternoon to view oil and gas-related developments at Sullom Voe, before heading up to Yell on-board one of the council’s ferries for a meeting with representatives from islands community organisations and businesses.
On Thursday, the Minister will visit the site of the new Anderson High School and Halls of Residence, before meeting with Lerwick Port Authority and external transport stakeholders.