The Scottish government has renewed its commitment rolling out cheaper ferry fares to the Northern Isles following concerns raised in the Scottish Parliament.
Transport Scotland has said a scheme to “significantly” cut the cost of sailing to and from Aberdeen will be introduced in the first half of this year.
The assurance comes after Orkney MSP Liam McArthur raised the matter during First Minister’s Questions.
Transport Minister Humza Yousaf announced last August that the Scottish government would introduce cheaper ferry fares in the “first half of 2018”.
It followed long-running calls for a variant of the road equivalent tariff, which serves communities in the Western Isles, to be rolled out in Orkney and Shetland.
However, no news has been forthcoming which has raised concerns, notably within the tourism sector, that the Northern Isles could be losing out on attracting visitors this summer.
Chairman of the environment and transport committee, Ryan Thomson, said he was confident an RET variant for Shetland will be introduced during the first half of this year.
“Time is pushing on now. I’m certainly not worried or concerned. The news I hear coming from the Scottish government, or coming from Transport Scotland, all indicate that the introduction of the RET scheme will happen in the first half of this year.
“There’s no concern, but it’s certainly not ideal for businesses and people waiting for this to be implemented.
“I’ve no doubt that if the government could have set a time-frame by now they would have done.”
Speaking at First Minister’s Question, Mr McArthur explained: “As we approach Easter weekend, there is still no sign of cheaper fares being introduced and more worryingly still there is still no sign of a formal start date.”
He asked the First Minister to accept that “this ongoing lack of clarity is unhelpful, particularly for the islands tourism sector which relies heavily on advanced bookings over the summer period.”
A statement released from Transport Scotland said: “As previously announced, a scheme to significantly reduce fares on Northern Isles ferry services will be rolled out in the first half of 2018.”