THERE remains an “incredible amount of unanswered questions” over the implementation of reduced fares on the NorthLink ferry service, according to the chairman of local transport body ZetTrans.
Ryan Thomson said at a ZetTrans meeting on Thursday that the “clock is ticking” for the Scottish Government to announce firm details.
Transport minister Humza Yousaf announced earlier this year that fares on the ferry to and from Shetland would be cut by over 40 per cent, while car fares are due to drop by more than 30 per cent on average.
It is expected that the RET-variant scheme will be introduced in the first half of 2018 but no clear details have been announced.
The introduction of cheaper fares is likely to have a knock-on effect on capacity, and concerns have already been raised in relation to both passenger and freight traffic.
Thomson told Thursday’s meeting in Lerwick that there is “absolutely no doubt that they’ll have to get a move on” with releasing details.
It was suggested that potential ferry passengers have been holding off on booking trips until the new fare structure is announced – although it is thought that those who buy tickets now will be refunded the difference.
Businesses are also said to be finding it difficult to plan ahead.
Shetland Islands Council’s transport boss Michael Craigie said there is also likely to be increases in whitefish production in the isles, further adding to concerns over future freight capacity as more fish gets exported south.
Lerwick Port Authority chief executive Sandra Laurenson, meanwhile, said that a proposed increase in ferry freight fares of 2.9 per cent will “affect the total population” of Shetland and not just companies.
Craigie added that there was an incorrect belief that freight fares had been frozen in the last couple of years, when it fact there had been no inflationary increase.
He added that a report is expected to be published before Christmas on the Scottish Government's transport analysis guide, which has been examining the future of the Northern Isles' ferry contract and its procurement process.
Craigie said that an extension to Serco NorthLink’s Northern Isles contract – which is due to run out next year – is currently being negotiated by Transport Scotland and details may emerge soon.
ZetTrans members, meanwhile, were also told the council is pursuing funding from a few sources in relation to implementing a “smart” ticketing system on the isles’ public transport.
Craigie said “meaningful progress” was being made by the local authority and that a report on smart ticketing – which includes schemes like London’s integrated Oyster card – is due to be presented to the next ZetTrans meeting.
Transport Scotland is currently holding a consultation on the future of smart ticketing nationally. ZetTrans’ response backs the idea of rolling it out locally, but notes the initial cost of replacing existing ticket systems would be around £180,000.