THE CURRENT contract to operate the Northern Isles lifeline ferry service has been extended until the end of January next year.
Last month government agency Transport Scotland named current operator Serco NorthLink as preferred bidder to run the services between Shetland, Orkney and the Scottish mainland until 2027.
But the ongoing dispute by Pentland Ferries over the subsidies paid to NorthLink on the Pentland Firth route means the new contract cannot commence on 31 October as planned.
Transport Scotland said the extension would ensure continuity of service in the short term.
It would also allow the process with the European Commission to be concluded before the award of the next contract, islands minister Paul Wheelhouse added.
“We need to engage further with the European Commission about the on-going complaint from Pentland Ferries and resolve any outstanding issues,” the MSP said.
“The extension will allow us to conclude that engagement before signing the new contract with Serco NorthLink Ferries, as well as giving ferry users continuity of service in the short term.
“It’s important to stress that will have no impact on the Scottish Government’s commitments around reduced cabin fares and the three year freeze on islander fares.”
From January 2020, travel costs for islanders will be reduced thanks to a 20 per cent discount on cabin fares on the Aberdeen-Kirkwall-Lerwick routes, as well as a three year fares freeze for passengers, non-commercial vehicles and cabins on those routes.
These reductions are in addition to the 30 per cent discount islander for passenger and vehicle fares.