FERRY operator NorthLink has insisted it has no plans to introduce “dynamic pricing” on its northern isles routes, despite the question being raised during a recent survey.
The assurance comes as two companies pulled out of the bidding for the six year ferry contract that is up for renewal this summer.
Several islanders have voiced alarm at being asked in a recent telephone survey about their views on being charged more the later they booked a ferry ticket.
NorthLink admitted that it asked the question during the latest in a series of islander customer satisfaction surveys.
Shetland Islands Council said they had not been informed of the question and were concerned the matter went no further without their involvement.
NorthLink said they were surveying attitudes towards charging the same way as airlines and train operators.
A spokesman said: “The questions relating to fare structure were designed to help us understand islander reaction to what is termed dynamic pricing – book early and receive a discount, book later and pay the full fare – similar to the pricing structure operated by FlyBe.
“However, this doesn’t mean that we have any plans to introduce such a fare structure.”
One islander who was asked the question in December last year said: “I was horrified. What if a loved one down south suddenly died or had an accident? I might not be able to afford to travel to see them.”
SIC transport planning executive manager Michael Craigie said that fares were more than just a commercial issue for the company.
“Fares are something which can determine the ability of people to travel at particular times, for example if you had to travel urgently it would be quite hard to go on the plane because of the higher fares,” he said.
Transport partnership ZetTrans chairman Allan Wishart added: “I don’t have a problem with them doing a survey if they are doing some research into how they might improve the service. I would be concerned if that was interpreted as a consultation, because fares are a huge issue.”
The Scottish government has made it clear they wish to find ways of saving money on the northern isles route, suggesting recently that boats slow down to save money on fuel.
The NorthLink contract is up for renewal this year. On Wednesday it emerged that Orkney operator Pentland Ferries and Norwegian shipping line Sea-Cargo, the majority shareholder in haulage firm Northwards, had pulled out of the bidding.
This leaves four companies competing for the contract, which attracts a subsidy of around £40 million a year. They are state-owned NorthLink, former contract holders P&O, local cargo handlers Streamline, and Scatsta airport operators Serco.
The government says that the bidding process is on schedule for when the current contract ends in July this year.