THE SCOTTISH government has promised to look again at concessionary fares on NorthLink ferries after complaints that pensioner, disabled and student travellers are having to pay higher rates.
New ferry operators Serco have dropped the concession from 25 per cent to 10 per cent, bringing it in line with all other public transport services in Scotland.
Managing director Stuart Garrett faced criticism when he attended Wednesday’s meeting of the Shetland external transport forum about the cut.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott chimed in from Edinburgh that he had received protests from constituents about a “back door fare increase”.
However Garrett insisted that the company was only implementing the national concession scheme that was written into the six year contract Serco had signed with Transport Scotland to provide the lifeline ferry service.
He said that Shetland residents already received a 30 per cent islander discount from the government and he could not explain why the previous contractor had added an extra 25 per cent cut for concessionary passengers.
“The contract provides for the islander discount fare to be discounted by a further 10 per cent for concessions and that is the Scottish scheme,” he said.
“Much as it may incur the wrath of people, it is not within my gift to change that.”
Tavish Scott complained that there had been no consultation about the changes to the discount rate.
“Had Serco said openly this is what they were considering and they were going to consult with local people and Shetland Islands Council we could have responded, but they have chosen not to do so,” he said.
“These are back door fare rises and I don’t think that is acceptable. We don’t know what Serco bid for the contract, but one has to assume they put in a good price because they are now trying to claw it back with increased revenue.”
Transport forum chairman Allan Wishart said he was pleased that Transport Scotland had agreed on Wednesday to review the concessionary discount.
“If we have had people in Shetland who have been getting a 25 per cent discount, it does not seem very fair to suddenly chop it to 10 per cent,” he said.
“The most we could get today was that Transport Scotland will take this back and have a look at it and review it.”
Industry insiders have suggested it is not the economic climate for the government to make a special case for Shetland islanders who have already been benefitting from an above rate discount for the past 10 years.