Transport / ‘Forget about ferries and go for tunnels’, councillor says

The Whalsay ferry Hendra making her first run to Vidlin on Wednesday morning - Photo: Hans J Marter/ShetNewsThe Whalsay ferry Hendra. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

FORGET about investment in ferries and build tunnels instead – that was the message from one senior elected member in the council chamber on Monday.

North Mainland member Alastair Cooper also backed the idea of free bus travel in Shetland.

His comments came during a discussion at Shetland Islands Council’s policy and resources committee about a review of Shetland’s public transport fare policy, which is getting underway.

Transport policy and projects officer Robina Barton said funding had been secured to carry out the project.

The review aims to give “full consideration” to the choices which may be possible around fares.

Some have recently called for public transport, or at least bus journeys, to be made free to reduce inequality and encourage people to leave their car at home.

A Shetland public transport fares reference group has also been set up to reflect a range of views on the matter, including representatives from the council, the NHS, Ability Shetland and VisitScotland.

Councillor Alastair Cooper chairs the SIC’s development committee.

Barton added that there will also be public engagement around fare policy in early December.

Environment and transport committee chairman Ryan Thomson said social inclusion and the ability to afford travel was a key factor.

“There are things going forward that we can change I think to help particular those on low incomes and those in the more remote areas to have access to services at an affordable level,” he said.

Cooper, meanwhile, said he was “looking forward to the day” when bus journeys in Shetland are free, saying it could help the “small pockets of poverty” in the isles.

He noted the mention of “investment in the ferry services” in a report on the review and said he would rather see the focus shifted to fixed links.

The idea of fixed links, such as tunnels, is broadly welcomed among the council but the high cost is prohibitive.

“I don’t want to see investment in the ferry services, I want to see tunnels built, with the exception of probably Foula and Fair Isle,” Cooper said.

“We need to get away from this notion that it’s all about ferry services, we need to find ways in getting folk to move freely, and a free bus service through a tunnel would be my solution for the lower income groups in Shetland.

“So, forget about ferries – go for tunnels.”

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021