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Transport / Cost of cabins concerns councillors

NorthLink's passenger ferry Hrossey arriving in Lerwick. Photo: Austin taylorOne of NorthLink's passenger ferries arriving at Lerwick harbour. Photo: Austin Taylor

THE COST of cabins on the ferry to and from Shetland came under the spotlight this week as a councillor claimed younger folk are being priced out of a decent night’s sleep on the boat.

Shetland Central member Ian Scott told Thursday’s meeting of the isles’ external transport forum that paying “£100 for a cabin berth one way and £100 for a car” on the lifeline service was too much, particularly for younger people.

“It must be a large problem to a lot of folk even to consider two hundred quid one way,” he said.

In response, Transport Scotland’s Northern Isles Ferry Service contract manager Paul Linhart-MacAskill said reducing cabin fares as part of an ongoing wider cut in ticket prices remained a “longer term” focus for the government.

“It’s on our radar,” he reassured stakeholders.

Linhart-MacAskill also pointed to a recent £2 million upgrade of the north boats which includes 66 new sleeping pods each for the Hjaltland and the Hrossey provide a “price sensitive option”.

But Scott said it was a “missed opportunity”.

“We would do it once, and we would never do it again,” he said about the pods, which are operator NorthLink Ferries says are “extra comfortable seats which recline up to 70 degrees”.

The councillor also suggested that some people’s expectations of travelling overnight on the boat may be softened by their experiences of using the old P&O ships prior to NorthLink winning the contract in the early 2000s.

“I don’t know if many folk would put up with it,” Scott claimed.

“We do because we are used to the Clair from 30 years ago.”

Fellow councillor John Fraser requested Transport Scotland to provide an update on its timetable for reducing cabin fares at the next meeting of Shetland’s external transport forum on 13 June.

He suggested cabin fares being looked at longer-term was simply “political speak for kicking the can down the road”.

Chairman Ryan Thomson, meanwhile, questioned why an inner four berth cabin was cheaper than an outer two berth, adding that this could lead to more beds being left empty.

Shetland Islands Council transport policy officer Robina Barton asked if cabin fares could be looked at from an “inequalities perceptive” as some people can’t afford a berth on what is deemed a lifeline service.

Linhart-MacAskill said it was something he would look into and report back on at the next external transport forum.