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Transport / Inter-island ferries restricted to essential travel only

Accounts system also brought in to reduce amount of cash handed over

The Bluemull Sound ferry terminal.The Fivla at Gutcher ferry terminal. Photo: Shetland News

SHETLAND’s inter-island ferry service is being restricted to critical travel only in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus.

It comes after the Scottish Government said at the weekend that ferries serving the country’s islands – like NorthLink – should not take non-essential travellers.

Shetland Islands Council is also trying to reduce the amount of cash used on the ferries in the meantime and implementing an accounts based system.

It follows concern among ferry crews over the handling of cash on board the ferries during the pandemic and the chances of the virus spreading.

Chairman of Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee Ryan Thomson said on Monday that ferry transport will now only be available for island residents and providers of essential services.

This falls in line with the policy which has also been put in place on Shetland’s inter-island flights.

Critical travel is defined as:

  • Shopping for basic necessities
  • Access to medical care or medical needs such as pharmacies
  • Travel to take care of vulnerable people
  • Travelling to and from work where work cannot be done from home

“I implore you to please follow government guidelines, and only travel if you absolutely must,” Thomson said.

“We will implement an account only payment method. Island residents and those delivering and providing essential services will have an account set up. This will help control travel. More details will follow suit in the coming days for those who need to use our ferries.

“The staff have been absolutely fantastic in these most testing of times. I cannot thank them or praise their work ethic highly enough.”

The council clarified that “travel on council ferries will be for those who live on our islands, who have a critical need to travel to or from the mainland and for essential freight, supplies or business”.

“We must place the responsibility on travellers to have carefully considered their journey and be prepared, if challenged, to prove they are an islander and/ or provide proof of their need to travel,” the SIC said.

For islanders, this could be a recent utility bill plus photo ID.

Business and freight can “continue to use the services, emphasising the responsibility to observe NHS health advice on reducing the risk of coronavirus transmission”, the council said.

“In practice, this restriction on travel will mean the following for ferry services: a ban on recreational and social travel, and a ban on non-essential travel to the islands by non-islanders.”

More information can be found online.

The issue of staff handling cash, meanwhile, was previously raised by Lerwick councillor Stephen Leask, who called for fares on ferries and buses to be waived entirely.

In internal communication ferry crews said it was “imperative we get a handle on this situation before it escalates further by implementing various control measures available to us as soon as possible”.

They had suggested removing fare collection on ferries in the view of setting up online or telephone payments.

This would also allow staff more time to “maintain the highest levels of cleanliness throughout vessels”, the crews said.

Shetland Islands Council chief executive Maggie Sandison previously said to staff that the situation for frontline employees would be managed through “proper risk assessment and the implementation of appropriate control measures, not through stopping our legitimate workplace activities”.

People can buy multi-journey tickets online, or set up an account – which would be invoiced fortnightly – via ferries.admin@shetland.gov.uk. If a passenger has no other option than cash, people are asked to have the exact fare.

Ferry services to Yell, Unst, Whalsay and Bressay, meanwhile, recently dropped to a Saturday timetable.