News / SIC tries to limit impact of ferry cutbacks

Services on Bluemull Sound are down to a single vessel operation. Photo: Shetland News

SHETLAND Islands Council is to try and limit the impact on the inter island ferry service as it tries to save £3 million from its £13 million budget.

Recommendations before councillors next Monday include re-introducing fares on Bluemull Sound, reducing weekend travel to Yell and Whalsay, cutting a crewman from Bluemull and Bressay Sound and basing Filla on Skerries.

Transport staff are rejecting more radical plans to cut timetables, reduce crewing and removing one of two Yell ferries as they were deemed to have too great an impact on communities.

The new savings package will cut spending by £1.7 million, which will be added to the savings worth £1.3 million, which have already been agreed and that do not affect services.

New timetables will be worked out after Monday’s Shetland Islands Council meeting in discussion with community councils and ferry crews.

The proposals include:

Bluemull Sound
• running Bigga seven days a week, 17 hours per day;
• cutting one crew from Geira, which will operate 40 hours a week;
• bringing back fares.


Yell Sound
• running one vessel 18 hours a day, seven days a week;
• running a second vessel 12 hours a day from Monday to Friday;
• reducing night manning from a full crew to two shipkeepers, with standby arrangements for emergencies.

• basing Filla in Skerries rather than Symbister;
• basing the crew in Skerries, where they must live while on duty;
• replacing one Lerwick sailing with two return trips to Vidlin in summer and one in winter.

• As Yell, Linga operating 18 hours a day, seven days a week;
Hendra operating 12.5 hours a day from Monday to Friday;

• reducing the Leirna crew from five to four, which will increase service disruption in bad weather;
• limiting passenger numbers to 50 (with permission sought to raise this to 60);
• an additional 8am sailing;
• running Leirna 17 hours a day Sunday to Thursday, 19 hours on Friday and Saturday;
• removing 15 underutilised runs, with additional sailings when demand is high.

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Fair Isle
• Maintaining current service as more money is being raised through increased fares.

Papa Stour
• Cutting the Monday sailing of Snolda all year and the Saturday afternoon sailing in winter.

The council also proposed operating a single vessel on Bluemull, Yell and Whalsay routes during public holidays such as Up Helly Aa, with no Skerries service at all.

The biggest impact of the changes will be felt on Skerries, officers warn, with crews having to live on the island while on duty, but needing alternative accommodation in adverse weather. This could involve the need to hire competent replacement staff.

Filla will be unable to berth on the island on average 100 nights of the year when winds exceed Force 5/6 from south west through south east.


The report to council states: “However, these barriers are not insurmountable and in the context of the potential saving this option represents and the other criteria, this option remains a viable component of the recommended package.”

It adds that this package of proposals, one of five on the table, would be the “most acceptable, in relative terms, to the affected communities”.

The other four packages including removing Filla altogether and removing one of the two Yell ferries.

Doing nothing is not acceptable due to the level of savings required, while maximising savings through timetable changes and job cuts would have too great an impact on communities.

New ticketing machines will be introduced in June this year to allow more flexible pricing, with ideas such as cheaper rates for island residents, and discounted monthly and yearly travel cards. The aim would be to increase fare income while protecting island residents.


The council is still keeping its mind open to the Scottish government taking direct control of the service, with a report to a future council meeting.

It has also been suggested that Papa Stour could be incorporated into the privatised Foula ferry service when the contract comes up for renewal in 2015.

The reports can be accessed here

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