Ferry pilot scheme launched
A new island ferry pilot scheme was launched by the Scottish Executive today at a press conference on the Isle of Lewis.
Speaking at the ferry terminal in Stornoway, transport minister Stewart Stevenson said, “For years, our remote and fragile communities have been expressing concerns about the affordability of ferry travel and the impact this has on islanders. Expensive fares can be damaging, not only to our local economies, but to our national economy.”
The pilot, set to operate between 19 October 2008 and spring 2011, is hoped to reduce ferry fees by up to 50%. The scheme will include all routes between the mainland and the Western Isles and is hoped to increase tourism to the Hebrides.
It is the result of an independent study which recommended a “Road Equivalent Tariff” and will bring the price of ferry travel in line with similar road distances. Cars will pay a flat rate of £5 plus an extra 60p per mile while passengers will pay £2 plus 10p per mile.
However no similar scheme is planned for the crossings to Shetland and Orkney which currently cost as much as £330 for a return to Lerwick, and £280 to Kirkwall. Mr Stevenson said, “While initially focussing a pilot on the Western Isles, we want this test case to pave the way for cheaper fares for all our island communities.”
Following the abolition of toll charges on the Forth and Tay road bridges on 11 February, the new ferry scheme marks another manifesto promise the SNP administration have delivered. The £1 and 80p tolls had been viewed as a “tax on Fifers,” restricting movement between the estuaries. The removal of the fares has increased the flow of traffic in and out of Fife and it is hoped that this new ferry plan will similarly bolster the number of people travelling to the Western Isles.
Chairman of CalMac Ferries Ltd, Peter Timms welcomed the pilot scheme but said, “We will need some months to prepare the groundwork prior to its introduction.”