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.