RET could work argues council response to ferry fares consultation

The discarded Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) which Holyrood argued would increase ferry fares to the isles should not be taken off the table.

That was one of the suggestions which a meeting of the full council considered this morning as they discussed their draft response to the Scottish government consultation on ferry fares.

Earlier this year the SNP argued that RET, which was introduced as a way of reducing ferry fares to the Western Isles, was not applicable to Shetland, because of the distances involved.

Humza Yousaf. Photo: Dave Donaldson
Humza Yousaf. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Instead transport minister Humza Yousaf froze Northern Isles ferry fares at their current rate so that the government could take time to consider an alternative.

However, according to the executive manager of transport Michael Craigie, RET could result in reduced fares for islanders if the cost of a cabin was factored into the equation.

Mr Craigie said: “A cabin is not something we should view as an additional luxury. It’s an absolute essential.”

In their draft response to Holyrood, the council writes: “Consideration should be given to a version of RET that includes the cost of the overnight berth in the RET rate.

“Berths on the Aberdeen/Lerwick crossings are a necessity for reasons of comfort, privacy, security and safety.”

Discussions on the possibility of using RET to reduce the overall cost of travel arose after councillor Drew Ratter raised an issue which has been echoed by many locally.

Mr Ratter said that it was not the fares which were high but the accommodation costs.

This was accepted by Mr Craigie, who pointed out that what was actually being considered was the “overall costs incurred by most people” using the ferry service.

“Unique Opportunity”

Michael Stout, who is the chairman of both ZetTrans and the council’s environment and transport committee, seemed keen, however, to continue pursuing other avenues.

He said that the consultation had given the council a “unique opportunity” to tackle the “thorny issue” of ferry fares.

Mr Stout later added that Mr Yousaf’s pledge to “find an alternative to RET is a big step forward”.

During the discussions councillors George Smith and Gary Robinson both argued in favour of consistent fares throughout the year.

Last week this newspaper reported on comments made by Humza Yousaf when he suggested that any price reductions could impact on “demand and capacity”.

In response to this comment Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said: “The inference of that is that to make it cheaper… would mean there wasn’t enough berths or car deck space.”

“This brilliant logic means that the only way for fares is up, as Serco NorthLink already say there is pressure at peak times, for example, school holidays.”

In the chamber today Mr Smith also expressed concerns about Mr Yousaf’s comments regarding “capacity versus cost.”

He said: “There’s some wiggle room which the Scottish government might use. Higher fares at peak times is a danger that’s there to be seen.”

Higher fares at peak times is a danger that’s there to be seen. – GEORGE SMITH

Council leader Mr Robinson agreed with this sentiment, and argued that reduced fares should apply at all times.

He said: “A lifeline service is a lifeline service whether it’s in the first week of the summer holidays or November.”

Another possibility which some councillors wished to keep on the table was the introduction of daytime sailings.

Councillor Davie Sandison presented a “potential scenario” to the chamber in which he argued daytime sailings would benefit the local tourism industry.

He said: “There might be a case during peak times, when tourists are making their way to Shetland, to have selected daytime sailings.”

North Isles councillor Robert Henderson said, however, that he would only support daytime sailings if they would not work to the “detriment” of the current schedule.


Add Your Comment
  • John Tulloch

    • November 3rd, 2016 14:18

    The problems of daytime sailings and increased traffic can be readily addressed by introducing a short crossing ferry to Caithness, as suggested by ferries expert Roy Pederson in his fine book, “Who pays the ferryman” – more details in my recent letter:

  • Murdo Cameron

    • November 3rd, 2016 15:22

    If there were daytime sailings we would not need cabins and that would help to reduce the cost.

    • fcluness

      • November 3rd, 2016 16:31

      I can assure you going on that run I will never go on it unless I can lie down, daytime or not. or they might need extra cleaners to run after my mopping up the spueings, I think you should try sitting in the most boring trip,and ferry, in the world before making comments like that for 12-14 hours.

      I think for most of the people I know if they are no bed then they just wont go on it

  • Laurence Tait

    • November 3rd, 2016 22:48

    Murdo that is the most stupid idea I have ever heard.

    The boat running costs are the same

    They make less income

    And the passengers waste a whole working day

  • Stuart Inkster

    • November 4th, 2016 9:41

    If sailing into Gills Bay or Scrabster It is to be remembered that it is another 5 to 6 hours to get to Aberdeen by car on a fine day,(Never mind bus or train), where most Shetland folk travel to begin there holidays, onward journeys etc.

    • John Tulloch

      • November 4th, 2016 10:58

      Stuart, Gills Bay would be supplementary to Aberdeen and as I said in my letter would benefit those who need cheaper fares, don’t want expensive accommodation and don’t mind some extra driving – not everybody wants to go to Aberdeen and it could save a family £300-400 on a trip and would also bring major benefits to agriculture, fishing and incoming tourism.

      • Ali Inkster

        • November 4th, 2016 18:03

        Then why not just run a service from Lerwick to Kirkwall that would allow onward connection either way with the service across the Pentland firth. It would be doable with the very little extra expense to the service currently provided.

      • John Tulloch

        • November 6th, 2016 20:46

        If doable, fine by me, Peterson didn’t explain. I should think going via Storminess, especially, would lengthen the overall travel time?

        If it was possible to land at a nearer point in Orkney it could make a big difference, especially, if their northern isles had fixed links and good roads to Kirkwall. What’s needed is a study by someone like Pederson to determine what’s best and then get on with it instead of this eternal pontification.

      • John Tulloch

        • November 7th, 2016 13:58

        “Stromness”, not “Storminess” – good old Spellcheck!

    • John Jamieson

      • November 6th, 2016 19:16

      If anyone wants to sample the drive from Aberdeen to the Gills Bay they can do so on their next boat trip from Aberdeen to Lerwick.
      A booking on the 6.30pm ferry from Gills Bay will leave plenty of time to catch the NorthLink ferry from Kirkwall about 11pm.
      The cost is much the same as the Pentland Ferries fare plus your fuel from Aberdeen is about the same as the saving from catching the NorthLink ferry at Kirkwall.

      • John Tulloch

        • November 6th, 2016 21:11

        John J,

        Best to read the comments before typing but I’ll save you the trouble.

        I have family in Aberdeen but not everybody wants to go there. Some want to travel in a day without the unnecessary expense of transporting their car 100+ miles farther and a cabin, neither of which they can afford.

        And agriculture, fishing and tourism would benefit from the cost savings, too.

      • John Jamieson

        • November 8th, 2016 18:01

        To John Tulloch. I read and was responding to Stuart Inkster’s comment.
        I did some route finder calculations and, for drivers traveling via Perth, using Gills Bay instead of Aberdeen would add 147 miles and 3 hours 14 minutes to the road journey.

  • David Spence

    • November 4th, 2016 9:42

    Daytime sailings may reduce costs for those who need cabins overnight, but would only lead to increased costs for accommodation elsewhere.

    Similarly, while clearly a Sumburgh-Gills Bay ferry would be cheaper and quicker, the problem is you end up in Gills Bay.

    This is the beauty of the current timetable and route. You can catch the ferry after work, and arrive nice and early a few steps from a major transport hub, or 15 minutes from the A90 if driving.

    The current cost for a Parent and Child with a cabin, return, is £202.56. Try booking return flights and two nights in a hotel for that price.

    • John Tulloch

      • November 4th, 2016 15:57

      So David, no cheap route for those who can’t afford to travel the way you like to? Or whose grandchildren live in Thurso?

      “I’m alright, Jack!” says the supposed socialist.

      • David Spence

        • November 7th, 2016 7:49

        I’m just being logical, the fact is most people travelling form Shetland to the mainland probably want to travel further, hence arriving in the morning in Aberdeen being an excellent option. Or of course you may have grandchildren in Aberdeen 😉

        Obviously for anyone who wants to travel to Thurso, a ferry landing nearby would be great, however the same can be said for anywhere. Personally I’d go via Orkney.

      • Sandy McDonald

        • November 7th, 2016 20:02

        Well what about the folk who want to travel to anywhere south of Aberdeen, or even to Inverness? Aberdeen a central location with good transport links. I would think that most folk have family closer to Aberdeen than they do to Thurso, just by the sheer fact of population density/spread.

        I wouldn’t be impressed if I had to drive from Thurso to Aberdeen or Glasgow, even if it was less expensive (think about quality of life vs costs!). I would be surprised if I am in a minority on this one. It has always been expensive to “get off the Island”, let’s focus on reducing the fares on the current routes and not complicating the issue with ideas that are never going to happen (I hope), I assume you are playing devils advocate here John.

      • John Tulloch

        • November 8th, 2016 11:28

        Sandy, why does it have to be Aberdeen OR Thurso?Why not Aberdeen AND Thurso, Orcadians have the choice?

        Transport minister Mr Yousaf has expressed concern that reducing fares will increase traffic, requiring expansion of the fleet. Here is an economic way of picking up the increase and adding to it.

        Those people who have no particular need to travel via Aberdeen and:
        1. Cannot afford to travel the expensive route,
        2. Wish to complete their journey in one day
        3. Do not want expensive, uncomfortable, overnight accommodation,

        will find the alternative of Caithness very attractive. We are talking smaller scale, here, possibly offering an improved link to Orkney where we currently arrive in the middle of the night.

        People with particular wishes to go to Aberdeen – and plenty of money – can stick with that, good luck to them.

        Local industries suffer major problems with the cost of transporting imports and exports and the Scottish government will not reduce the fares to anything like acceptable levels with the present system. That much is clear.

    • John Jamieson

      • November 8th, 2016 18:26

      How much does the NorthLink Landbridge costs ?
      It’s on the website as a special offer but no prices. Lerwick to Thurso via Kirkwall return with overnight B & B on the Hamnavoe at Stromness on the way south.

      • John Tulloch

        • November 9th, 2016 15:54

        Aye, John, I saw that but it’s not much use as it stands.

        Presumably, the cost of the cabin will be in addition to the ferry fares so it isn’t going to be cheap.

        Staying in Stromness overnight means you are still there in the morning, as opposed to being on the mainland and it doesn’t provide much of an alternative for heavier, business transport.

        We can’t really design a new system on here, the point is, problems exist with cost, journey time and the inability to travel within a single day.

        Also, the existing link to Orkney is “braaly hopless” and a swift study, by someone like Roy Pederson, is needed to establish the best way to achieve the obvious benefits of a short crossing to Caithness, possibly, via Orkney. Then we need to get on with it, as opposed to this eternal pontification – it will be good for Shetland and may even save the Scottish government money in the medium to long term.

  • Iris Sandison

    • November 4th, 2016 10:33

    I would think that if we had daytime sailings, passenger numbers would be considerably reduced! You need ta get your head doon if it’s coorse wadder. And as for sailing to Caithness….that would be a real winner. Not!

  • Douglas Greig Young

    • November 4th, 2016 15:01

    Thank goodness for Michael Stout’s voice of reason

  • Christopher Johnston

    • November 4th, 2016 18:32

    In contrast to Shetland, there are three options to/from Orkney to mainland Scotland :
    1. Scrabster/Stromness (NorthLink – 2/3 sailings/day, auto & passenger)
    2. Gill’s Bay/ St. Margaret’s Hope (Pentland Ferries – 3/4 sailings/day, auto & passenger)
    3. John O’Groats/Burwick (John O’Groat Ferries – May through September, passenger only)
    Many travelers to/from Orkney chose to take their auto and drive from Scrabster or Gill’s Bay as need be.

    • Bill Adams

      • November 7th, 2016 12:16

      Actually there are 4, not 3, options to/from Orkney to mainland Scotland :
      4. Kirkwall/Aberdeen – OK not every day of the week
      but look at the number of Orcadians on the boat South on Fridays
      and coming back on the Sunday sailing at the end of the weekend.
      Rather than making landfall at the back of beyond at Scrabster/Gills Bay/Burwick
      and having to spend hours traveling just to get to Inverness, far less
      any other destination further south, they obviously prefer Aberdeen,
      where a 10 minute walk takes you to the bus/railway station and frequent buses
      to Aberdeen airport if traveling onward by air.

      • John Tulloch

        • November 7th, 2016 21:25

        That’s fine, Bill, nothing wrong with that. You seem to suggest they don’t bring their cars with them but, presumably, travel on by pubic transport or, possibly, just have some business to attend to in Aberdeen. They have that choice and that’s good, especially, for anyone who doesn’t drive.

        However, Shetland families could save £300 or more per trip, travelling via Caithness, were that option – properly designed – on offer. Alas, unlike Orcadians, Shetlanders are denied that choice.

        Bus and rail services are, of course, available in Caithness, too, albeit, less frequent and more remote.

  • Riy chamberlain

    • November 7th, 2016 23:06

    We travel from Morecambe to get the ferry from Aberdeen to lerwick that is a minimum of six hours driving and a short drive to the levenwick camp site, used to be clikimin but that us another story. A day time sailing would mean we won’t make the journey as it would entail another night on the road without the part oif the holiday on da boat

  • John Tulloch

    • November 10th, 2016 8:47

    SIC project officer Ken Duerden is reported elsewhere as saying that “changing the vessels currently used on the route is still a live option”.

    i.e. the opportunity has been there all along to redesign a superior, more affordable service for the next contract but we are only hearing that now.

    Surely, it would have been more sensible for SIC staff to have worked on designing a new fare structure AFTER designing the new service, not before?

  • Damien Ristori

    • November 10th, 2016 12:25

    The Nigg Bay/Aberdeen development project is a few years away from being completed and really the time is now to focus on what benefits the new port could have for both Orkney, Shetland and the wider community around us.

    It could also be a useful suggestion for who ever wins the next ferry contract to also perhaps hire a third vessel to be put into service during the summer months only.

    I’m sure most islanders like myself would expect current operator Serco to announce that this suggestion would cost a lot of money, but nevertheless I think we are owed a better service, or perhaps they could open up occasional daytime sailings again at peak times.

    If Ken Duerden is keen to explore the idea to look into different vessels then I think Nigg Bay would be the location chosen as the next port of call not the existing berth due to capacity issues.


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