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Transport / Bus fares frozen for year ahead as work continues on review of ticket prices

Viking Bus Station.

BUS fares in Shetland will remain unchanged in the coming financial year.

There will be a slight increase in the price of inter-island flights, which will all rise by 0.9 per cent.

Charging proposals for 2021/22 went in front of members of transport partnership ZetTrans on Wednesday.

Shetland Central member Davie Sandison said he hoped that freezing bus fares could encourage people to use services again when things return to some level of normality following the pandemic.

“I’m glad that we have managed to come up with a proposal that actually manages to freeze bus fares this year,” he said.

A review of public transport fares in Shetland, meanwhile, is still ongoing.

At this stage a large number of potential options are on the table, with some sifted out.

The options under consideration range from concessions for all to discounts targeted by certain passenger groups or place of residence, or cheaper fares in off-peak times.

There is also work ongoing on how to set base fares.

The final stage of the review will be reported to councillors in June.

Following a question from stand-in chairman Robbie McGregor, who advocated free bus fares, transport policy and projects officer Robina Barton said there is no “strong evidence to indicate that bus travel is not currently affordable for the masses” – but she added that certain groups of people could benefit from free fares.

When asked about the prospect of family and friends fares for people flying to Fair Isle and Foula, Barton said the needs of different islands will be factored into the study.

Sandison also asked if free bus travel for all would have less administrative and bureaucratic costs.

Barton noted, however, that free fares could lead to a surge in demand which in effect could result in more capacity being needed.

“These are things that have to be weighed up quite carefully,” she said.

Lead officer Michael Craigie, however, said that this potential scenario would see various types of local concessions put in place, rather than “free fares”.

He said he was not aware of other local authorities in the UK offering free bus travel, although it was in place abroad in countries like Finland – where there is a “very socially conscious” government.

The environmental impact of the prospect of encouraging vehicle use on ferries was also raised, but North Isles councillor Alec Priest said those living in the islands often have a lower income and access to transport would help with equality.

Sandison also said there was a “mismatch” between the direction of travel regarding uptake of electric vehicles, which tend to be for those who can afford it, and those on lower incomes who need to use public transport.