The Scottish government has finally delivered on its manifesto promise to cut ferry fares, with a pledge to reduce travel costs from the first half of next year.
Fares for foot passengers will be cut by an average of over 40 per cent, while car fares will be reduced by typically 30 per cent. However, Transport Scotland has made no announcement over cuts to cabin prices.
Minister for Transport and the Islands Humza Yousaf is due to make the announcement during a visit to the isles. Yesterday he was in Fair Isle and is due in Lerwick today.
Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) will be introduced on the Pentland Firth routes, while an RET variant will be brought in on the routes between Aberdeen and Lerwick.
The exact reductions for each route have yet to be finally decided, as decisions on fares for 2018 have still to be taken.
However, the Scottish government says the previous two-tier fare system for islanders and non-islanders will be replaced by a flat rate, which will be in place all year round and capped at the season low islander rate or lower.
Work is being undertaken with the commercial operators on the Pentland Firth with a view to including them in the fares reduction scheme.
Fares on the Northern Isles ferry services were frozen last year, prompting questions at the time over why they could not be immediately cut, thus honouring the SNP’s election promise.
At the time Mr Yousaf said he wanted to offer ferry fare cuts when it was possible to do so.
However, the Minister is scheduled to make an announcement later today. “During my first visit to the Northern Isles as transport minister I committed to ensuring we would reduce ferry fares as soon as practically possible,” he is due to say.
“It was a clear manifesto commitment and I’m very pleased we are now in a position to announce when that pledge will be delivered.
“These significant fare cuts will be rolled out in the first half of 2018.
“It is also our intention to include the commercial operators on the Pentland Firth in this scheme, and we will work with them to put a suitable system in place to allow that to happen.
“This reduction in fares will make ferry travel to and from the Northern Isles even more attractive for islanders and tourists. It also brings fares into line with those on the Clyde and Hebrides network, ensuring parity and supporting our aim of having one overarching fares policy across our ferry services.
“Detailed analysis is being carried out on the potential impact on demand and options to mitigate capacity issues will also be investigated, given the likely rise in passenger numbers.
“The Scottish government is committed to supporting our island communities and this fares reduction scheme will ensure our lifeline ferry services remain affordable for the people that depend on them, whilst also helping support the economy of the Northern Isles.”
Isles MSP Tavish Scott welcomed the announcement, but said covering the cabin costs was “crucial”.
“We all like to book a cabin, or a berth in a cabin. If they’re not cutting that, then they’re not recognising that this is an overnight sailing.
“Any reduction is fine, but I expect the reductions to cover the entire fare that Shetlanders pay to get on the boat.
“It could have been cut last year. It could have been cut when Nicola Sturgeon promised it. Why it’s taken so long is mystifying to most Shetlanders.”
In a statement he added: “Shetland deserves the same reduction in fares that the Scottish government introduced on the west coast of Scotland. Islanders there have benefited from a 50 per cent reduction in fares for some time.
“So it is good news the Scottish government have begun to address the ferry fares discrimination they imposed on the northern isles.
“I trust that once the detail is clear, Shetlanders and the islands economy will also benefit from a 50 per cent fare reduction. The SNP used to say that it wasn’t possible to reduce our ferry fares. Their change of heart is down to the islands refusing to accept no and I pay tribute to everyone across Shetland who has been involved in making that case.”
• The Scottish government has provided representative examples to show how much passengers may be paying from next year.
Its first example, using the RET mechanism and current 2017 fares, shows a trip between Scrabster and Stromness in peak season for two people with a vehicle costing around £42.00, instead of the current prices of £68.46 for islanders and £97.80 for non-islanders.
More relevant for Shetlanders, though, is the second example laid out by Transport Scotland officials.
Using the RET variant mechanism and 2017 fares, it shows a trip between Aberdeen and Lerwick in peak season for two people with a vehicle would cost around £110.00, instead of the current prices of £159.60 for islanders and £228.00 for non-islanders.
• Full coverage of Mr Yousaf’s visit in Friday’s <i>Shetland Times</i>.