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RET for lifeline ferry service ‘not adequate’

The NorthLink ferry Hjaltland arriving in Lerwick - Photo: Austin Taylor

SHETLAND Islands Council’s transport manager has reiterated his opposition to the idea of the Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) scheme ever being implemented on the Northern Isles ferry route.

Speaking at a ZetTrans meeting on Friday, transport boss Michael Craigie clarified the local authority’s stance on RET following the publication of the local authority’s draft response to the recent consultation on cutting ferry fares in the Northern Isles.

The draft letter suggested that a modified version of RET – a fare system which sets prices by the equivalent distance by road – could be considered if it included the cost of a cabin berth.

However, Craigie reiterated after Friday’s meeting that using a RET scheme would never work on the long Northern Isles route, even if it included the cost of a berth.

“It’s important that we are clear in our position around what’s important in any future fares model for the islands,” he said.

“The Scottish Government already accepts that RET doesn’t work for the Aberdeen-Kirkwall-Lerwick route.

“My view in terms of RET is that if it includes a cabin, then that it’s better than it otherwise would be, but it’s not adequate still in its own right.

“It still would not create a fare that is broadly comparable with Orkney, Western Isles and the West Coast, so while it would improve the offering, it is still not adequate.”

The Scottish Government are currently reviewing the cost of ferry fares between the Northern Isles and the mainland, with cuts in prices only expected to be introduced when the next ferry contract begins in April 2018.

Meanwhile, councillor Davie Sandison said at the ZetTrans meeting that daytime sailings should be considered during peak months to allay concerns over capacity should cheaper fares be introduced.

He suggested additional sailings could be put on at weekends, for example, especially during the summer, but “not as an alternative” to scheduled evening departures.

Sandison added that this could also increase the number of people spending income on overnight accommodation in Shetland instead of choosing to sleep on the ferry.

SIC project officer Ken Duerden said that daytime sailings were something currently under consideration, but if introduced they would only come into effect once the new ferry contract begins.

He added that changing the vessels currently used on the route is still a “live option” at present.