MSPs demand answers over ferry fares ‘shambles’

The “shambles” surrounding reduced fares on lifeline ferries must be sorted out quickly, according to MSP Tavish Scott.

Together with his Orkney colleague Liam McArthur, Mr Scott has called for the new Scottish transport secretary Michael Matheson to update residents and explain why a promised cut – equivalent to the so-called road equivalent tariff (RET) – has not been introduced.

In July Mr Matheson did announce a 20 per cent reduction on the Aberdeen-Lerwick and Kirkwall-Lerwick route “as a first step” for both passengers and cars. That fell some way short of the expected RET reduction, which was ruled out after the Scottish government failed to reach an agreement with the operator of the Pentland ferry service.

Cabins were not included in Mr Matheson’s announcement – something not lost on the Northern Isles Liberal Democrat representatives Mr Scott and Mr McArthur.

They say that means the true reduction in fares for Northern Isles residents is only 12 per cent.

The pair have written to Mr Matheson reiterating their disappointment and demanding an update.

Tavish Scott – wants answers over ferry fares.

Mr Scott said: “For years, Orkney and Shetland have been excluded from the government’s cheaper ferry fares scheme. Then, despite repeated promises over the last year, ministers have yet to deliver on their promises to islanders. This has left people in Shetland angry and frustrated, not least as we see another tourism season come and go with fares barely changing.

“Between Shetland, Kirkwall and Aberdeen the discount announced in June does not include cabins so a family of four islanders travelling from Lerwick to Aberdeen with a car and a cabin now receive a mere 12 per cent reduction in fares. This does little to address the prohibitive cost of travel for many isles families.

“The transport secretary must set out how he plans to reduce fares to the level the SNP promised.

“Mr Matheson must know that the longer this shambles goes on, the worse it reflects on the government. The funding has been set aside and must benefit islanders who depend on these lifeline services.”


Add Your Comment
  • Wayne Conroy

    • August 8th, 2018 12:55

    The true reduction is even worse when we don’t take a car. A local couple travelling in the cheapest cabin with no car still pay over £250 for a return journey.

    It’s about time the residents of Shetland recieve a discount that the likes of the western isles residents have been benefiting from for many years. Lifeline service? What a pathetic joke.

  • John Jamieson

    • August 8th, 2018 13:39

    Pity that the Orkney and Shetland MSPs who were in the coalition government when the routes, timetables and fare structure for the NorthLink services had not tackled the anomaly of the fares not including basic accommodation on overnight services.

    • Steven Jarmson

      • August 12th, 2018 13:56

      The coalition executive of the time was tied by a tight interpretation of EU state aid rules.
      Those rules have been softened, still nothing has happened.
      When we leave the EU nothing will change.
      The simple reason nothing has happened is Shetland is not in the central belt.

      • John Jamieson

        • August 14th, 2018 16:54

        It was the Labour/lib Dem coalition’s own interpretation of the rules that put their entire Scottish ferry network out to tender.
        They ordered boats, agreed the time tables and set the fares without even carrying out a cost benefit analysis of the best type of boat for the northern ferries or moving the service to another port.
        The present Scottish Government is doing what it can to deal with fundamental problems inherited by them.

  • john ridland

    • August 8th, 2018 18:05

    I once heard that if the private Orkney ferry got the same level of sub ( pro rata) he could transport folk for free and still make a good living/profit ,! Its all rotten…!

    • Steven Jarmson

      • August 12th, 2018 13:47

      Slightly different type of thing to the once a day north boat contract.
      I’m pretty sure the Mousa ferry would be able to do away with charging passengers if it was subsidised.
      The Dunter too.
      The north boats should be treated as the lifeline services that they are, not as something to line the pockets of the already very wealthy.
      We keep hearing that something is going happen, we hear it loudest near election time.
      Just as the Tories gave tax cuts in election years only to increase them again immediately after, the SNP make loud noises in election years only to say their much loved EU won’t allow them to follow through on their hollow promises.
      Perhaps if we all learn gaelic or start speaking with central belt accents we’d get something out of this the populist nats.
      Shetland is to Sturgeon what Scotland was to Thatcher.

      • John Jamieson

        • August 14th, 2018 11:00

        Could you enlighten us as to what the Lib Dems did about lifeline fares while they were in coalition with Labour up till 2008 ?
        As I have been travelling on NorthLink on holiday almost every year I can not say that I have noticed any great difference in the level of fare increases over the years.
        In fact if the SG had not stepped in with a massive subsidy to pay for the fuel that these boats consume in order to keep to the timetables (seemingly set in stone by the Labour/Lib Dem coalition government) fares would have been a great deal higher.

      • Alistair Inkster

        • August 14th, 2018 12:57

        Maybe John can explain why the amp decided to buy said fuel guzzlers from RBS?

      • John Jamieson

        • August 16th, 2018 9:11

        I have often wondered why the Labour/Lib Dem coalition didn’t buy the vessels outright when they were built as they had a surplus of cash at the time.
        There are several good reasons for buying this fleet from the RBS now.
        Primarily that the Scottish Government has calculated that it is the cheaper option in the long term.
        There are several other reasons, such as eliminating the possibility of the lease being transferred to another company if RBS continues restructuring its business before re-privatisation.
        The fleet was purpose built for the Aberdeen, Orkney and Shetland harbours, routes and timetables, there are no other vessels readily available that could match all of these factors if for any reason the lease was not renewed.
        As the Aberdeen – Orkney – Shetland route vessels are pretty well unique, negotiations over a future renewal of the lease with an owner intent on maximising return could prove difficult and a new lease could be much more expensive.
        It removes any problems arising if the operator has cash flow problems again and defaults on payments.
        It removes an area of risk, where the service could be halted for reasons outwith Scottish Government control.

      • Ali Inkster

        • August 16th, 2018 13:53

        So after years saying that the vessels are unsuitable for the route. They are suddenly good enough to be with us for many years to come. Surely a much better solution would be to lease them for 2 more years while new vessels are built in time for the new terminal in cove bay. That is if they have any intention of providing a suitable service to Orkney and Shetland.

      • John Jamieson

        • August 16th, 2018 15:28

        I never said that they were suitable but let’s face facts, they’re all that meet the stringent requirements and were built for at least a twenty-five year life.
        Aberdeen’s new harbour is still some way off, so wouldn’t be wise to order anything for that yet.

      • Ali Inkster

        • August 17th, 2018 22:09

        Really? Some way off? It is due for completion in 2020 so we could have been looking at new boats for for purpose in 2 years. Instances will now be stuck with a lack of capacity and fuel guzzlers for many years to come. Maybe if Shetland snp supporters let the snp know that their support was conditional on the snp actually doing right by the northern isles instead of slavishly defending their every move, we might get decent boats and fair fares. But I won’t hold my breath

  • Peter Hamilton

    • August 18th, 2018 18:47

    Well, the hulls were picked up cheap in Poland, the initial buyers having hit financial difficulties. The hulls mean adding daytime sailings is not affordable. And, of course a range of affordable sleeping options is needed, but Shetland wasn’t sufficiently consulted was it ? Thank Tavish.

    Some islanders can’t hack sea crossings and others fear flying but it simply should not be prohibitively expensive to get down or up at short enough notice to visit relatives in crisis – either by sea when Sumburgh is fog bound, or by air when high seas prevent sailings. Affordable travel, once known as public transport, should be a right.

    Happily Logan Air, Serco and RBS have been doing quite well out of their expensively subsidised competition and inadequate services. Aren’t market forces wonderful ?

    So how could future decision making be improved ?

    An independent regulator could advocate for the right of islanders to get to a rail-head city on the mainland, affordably, at short notice. It could do the tough, long-term thinking on how to prevent public money being wasted on subsidising Logan Air and Nothlink to compete with each other and might even stop the political blame game.


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