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Transport / NorthLink discount petition gathers more than 1,200 signatures

Capacity of both the NorthLink passenger and freight boats have come under scrutiny over recent years. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

MORE than 1,200 people have signed a petition calling for NorthLink to reverse its “outrageous” decision to scrap its islander discount for food and drink on board its ferries.

The petition has been created by Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael and Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart.

Carmichael said the decision to stop the discount without warning or consultation with the community was “not the way an essential service should be behaving to islanders who are locked into using their service”.

When asked about the decision, Serco NorthLink’s commercial director Jim Dow said on Thursday that the company was “proud to offer an extensive food and drink menu on board that is very reasonably priced and equal for all passengers”.

When asked again a NorthLink spokesperson said the 20 per cent discount was always a temporary offering and it has now been decided to end it.

Responding to the move, Carmichael said: “Catering for passengers in short ferry journeys can be basic – few people want to do more than grab a coffee. Our ferries are not like that. Ours is an overnight trip. It is a lifeline service.

“Many of those with the tightest budgets rely on it most and will be the hardest hit.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart said: “Islanders have felt a sense of unfairness about this and shown they will not stand for it. There was no consultation with local stakeholders by NorthLink or Transport Scotland who knew this change was coming. I would encourage everyone to sign this petition to show NorthLink and Transport Scotland this is not the way to do things.

“People are not choosing NorthLink through a sense of loyalty, nor is it necessarily a reflection on the service they encounter. People need to travel and it is a long journey to the mainland. Those on restricted budgets should not be forced to choose between eating and anything else when travelling on a lifeline service.”

The decision also prompted Shetland Islands Council’s transport committee chairman Ryan Thomson to write to NorthLink on the matter.

Transport Scotland, the government agency which contracts Serco NorthLink to run the Northern Isles ferries, said the islander discount for meals and drinks was not a contractual issue of the lifeline service.