Sumburgh to Gills Bay (John Tulloch)

I recently read an excellent book, Who Pays the Ferryman, by ferries expert Roy Pederson, in which he explains how, among other things, vastly cheaper ferry fares between Shetland and the Scottish mainland could become available.

Some capital investment would be needed for a terminal at/near Sumburgh from where a ferry could ply between Shetland and Gills Bay, Caithness. The trip could be accomplished, at least twice, daily, and would make a game-changing difference to fares for travel and freight transport.

Such a service already operates between St Margaret’s Hope, Orkney and Gills Bay, Caithness. Pentland Ferries’ impressive catamaran ferry, Pentalina, beats NorthLink on both crossing time and price, even though they receive no subsidy.

Pentland Ferries owner Andrew Banks is quoted in Mr Pederson’s book as saying that, were Pentland Ferries to receive the same subsidy as NorthLink, he could provide the service for free and be a wealthy man.

It follows that, with reasonable subsidy, the effect of such an arrangement on transport costs would be dramatic, with the additional benefit of providing much-needed competition for NorthLink.

Those preferring to continue using the expensive route to Aberdeen could do so. However, people who need cheaper fares, don’t want expensive overnight accommodation and don’t mind some extra driving, would benefit greatly from the shorter crossing, as would industries like agriculture, fish and tourism.

John Tulloch


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