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.
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.
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.