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Transport / NorthLink accused of penalising islanders over cabin charges while social distancing rules remain in place

Single travellers have to pay the cost of a full cabin

LIFELINE ferry operator NorthLink has been accused of “unfair and unethical behaviour” for charging single travellers the full cabin price when there is little alternative accommodation choice due to Covid-19 social distancing rules.

Lerwick woman Heather Butler said she was furious to discover that she has been made to pay for an entire cabin when all that she required was a bunk in a shared cabin.

Photo: NorthLink Ferries

NorthLink’s customer service said in response to Butler’s complaint that shared cabins remained suspended from service until further notice, with customers having the option to book a reclined seat, a sleeping pod or the sole use of a cabin.

Butler said she felt islanders were being penalised, as there was no alternative but to pay double in order to follow the guidance on social distancing.

She said that as a carer to an ill family member on the Scottish mainland she was a frequent traveller on board the ferries and described the situation as “unacceptable”.

“My own opinion is one of disbelief that due to the Covid pandemic we are being told to book a cabin for exclusive use,” she said, “or if we can’t afford this payment, we have the unwelcome choice of a reclining sea, or the equally uncomfortable pod.

“I was told we cannot lie on the floor, which is actually the better option. So why are we being forced to pay for exclusive use, when Transport Scotland are giving NorthLink a subsidy?”

Following last year’s by-election in which the cost of travelling by ferry was one of the main topics, the Scottish Government introduced a 20 per cent discount on the cost of cabins for islanders.

NorthLink’s advertised cost for cabins ranges from £90 for an inner twin cabin to £149 for a premium outside two-berth cabin.

Butler was charged £84.24 for the exclusive use of the cabin, double of what she would have been charged for a berth.

In a letter to Shetland News she said she has taken up the issue with her MP.

She added: “People living in Shetland pay a high price to travel off the islands. How long are they expected to pay double for travelling? This situation needs to change.”

A spokesperson for NorthLink said: “Given the current climate passengers are not able to currently book a shared room other than when they are travelling with someone from the same household.

“Through the concessionary scheme, valid passengers can used their vouchers to contribute towards the cost.

“Of course, the alternative accommodation options are also still available and the removal of shared cabins is a temporary measure.”

Chairman of Shetland transport partnership ZetTrans councillor Ryan Thomson said he had received a number of complaints from islanders who felt they had been treated unfairly.

“There are still so many issues to resolve with our lifeline link, and while, during these uncertain times, NorthLink Ferries are doing the best they can in difficult circumstances,” he said.

“If cabin prices were fit for purpose in the first place, there would be no issue currently. While a slight reduction last year was welcome, it should only be the start to what should be finding solutions on what is a real problem for Shetland.

“The council and ZetTrans will continue to work constructively with Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government, and I hope, for the benefit of our community, cross party solutions at government level can be found to mitigate the challenges islanders face travelling to and from Shetland.

“What shouldn’t be forgotten is the ferry from Lerwick to Aberdeen is in effect our road to the mainland. It’s as essential as that.”