Ferry fares ‘crippling’ locals, meeting told

The cost of reaching the mainland on the Northlink ferry is “absolutely abhorrent”, councillor John Fraser has said.

His comments came during a meeting of the council’s external transport forum, which heard representations from Transport Scotland, Serco NorthLink and Loganair.

Head of ferries at Transport Scotland, Graham Laidlaw, came under extreme scrutiny after telling the committee that reducing fares on the NorthLink service “may present further capacity challenges”.

Chairman Ryan Thomson took umbrage with this statement, saying that it was “concerning” to hear that fares would not be reduced because of the lack of space on the ferries.

He said that he had priced up a trip for his family of five to Aberdeen on the boat, with a cabin and a car, and was shocked to find it would cost £561.76. This amount was “crippling” just to get to Aberdeen, he said, and added that you would “have to be very well-off” to afford to pay for this.

Mr Fraser said that this committee had heard before that reducing fares would be “on the radar” and added they were “using the same rhetoric” at every meeting regarding reduced fares.

He accused them of “building a wall around the islands” for a life-line service.

Mr Laidlaw said that it was “technically not possible” for them to add more cabins to the NorthLink ferries, and reminded the committee that more sleeping pods had been added recently.

“I appreciate that pods aren’t always what people want,” he said.

Mr Thomson said that he was “yet to speak to someone who’s used a pod twice”, and that passengers should “expect a bed” for the price of the service.

Councillor Ian Scott was next to step into the discussion, asking Mr Laidlaw firstly if the people who had drawn up the contract had ever even stepped on to the boat, before asking him if he personally had ever used one of the NorthLink sleeping pods, to which Mr Laidlaw replied “no”.

“Whoever thought of these pods should be ashamed,” Mr Scott said, before asking Mr Laidlaw, “how are we going to explain to our constituents that our complaints haven’t been addressed?”

More in next Friday’s edition of The Shetland Times.


Add Your Comment
  • Peter Hamilton

    • June 13th, 2019 18:31

    By train the cheapest Oban to Glasgow and Wick to Inverness returns are under £30. There are bus alternatives.

    Last minute available and affordable travel options to our nearest city should be seen as a right across Scotland.

    For the Lerwick to Aberdeen run, travellers in both directions need to be able to journey at last minute to attend meetings, job interviews and visit relatives in distress, and be able to afford to arrive feeling as fresh and rested as the weather allows.

    Can’t help wishing that Scottail ran the daytime and overnight sailings with onward ticket options connecting on from Aberdeen and through Shetland’s internal ferry and bus services.

    Would too that Shetland’s MSP had, as transport minister, set up an external body to ensure that transport needs were treated as rights. Viewed as a right, affordable travel widens access to other rights including education and training.

    There is a lot for Shetland to push for here to secure vitality and keep depopulation in check. Vibrant peripheral communities are good for the whole country. Local political parties should combine forces with SIC to demand equal treatment. Fares fair.

  • Bruce smith

    • June 15th, 2019 8:30

    Most off the fare cost is with the high docking costs at Aberdeen
    And size off vessel can’t be any bigger because of Aberdeen harbour
    Should we be the same as the western isles ££ no more than by road .
    Are they need to look at another port
    Boat ways my view is the passenger boat should only be passengers and car only
    So when a new boat is build there can be another deck of cabins
    And leave all cargo to the cargo boats

  • Anthony Gilfillan

    • June 17th, 2019 4:26

    Guaranteed cabins would just mean higher prices to get on the boat at all. Least as it is you can choose not to get a cabin.

    Still got to hire people to clean them, more cabins means more workers. So that’s another cost increase.

    Best bet is to go without a cabin, get a plane or swim.

    • Johan Adamson

      • June 17th, 2019 14:49

      You cant really choose not to have a cabin since they boarded off a lot of the sleeping options to stop people sleeping on the sofas, or if you have children. Surely child protection issues undressing young children in public and not letting them sleep in a bed for 14 hours. When we were peerie at least we had the e deck option.

      Why cant more boats run at peak times? Surely then there would be a profit – or are they too busy at Serco paying management and shareholders?

  • Linsey Nisbet

    • June 28th, 2019 15:10

    I have just read my Shetland Times after having been out of Shetland for a week and therefore unable to access the paper until today. (I left Shetland on a very busy ferry, in a tiny 4 berth cabin which cost as much as a luxury room in a fine hotel. But that is not my point today!)
    I read, with some amazement, the article on page 3, “Sleeping Pods Are Here To Stay.”
    Among many disappointing displays of a could-not-care attitude, Mr Garrett, Northlink’s Managing Director announced that since 16.6% of islanders had classed the pods as poor, this meant that “over 80% of Islanders had voted the pods positively.”
    I fail to understand how he can come to this conclusion. Did he poll 100% of the Shetland population? I know that neither my husband nor myself were asked for our opinion. I have not personally used the pods, but the one time that my husband booked one, he found someone else sleeping in it, and had to spend the night cold, on a chair with no pillow or blanket. He would not have given the pod a positive review had he been asked.

  • John Jamieson

    • July 15th, 2019 10:06

    As an almost annual visitor to Shetland paying around £600 for the ferry I have often wondered what the service could have been like if the destinations, timetables and ferries had not tried to meet all of the plethora of conflicting objectives that emerged from the local consultations.
    To me it appears to be the worst of all worlds, expensive, uncomfortable, conflicting priorities for freight and passengers.
    Maybe sometime when it is time to a replace the vessels a proper cost benefit based approach to the entire service will be undertaken and any alternatives put out for public consultation.


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