A PETITION calling on lifeline Northern Isles ferry operator Serco NorthLink to replace sleeping pods with couchettes to allow people without cabin accommodation a proper night’s sleep is rapidly gaining signatures.
The ‘Replace sleeping pods’ petition was started by Lerwick woman Sarah Stove on Sunday, and it already had more than 300 signatures the following morning.
It is the latest move by local people expressing their dissatisfaction with the sleeping arrangements on board the overnight ferries between Shetland and the Scottish mainland.
Introduced in 2013, many local people have been complaining about the sleeping pods from day one and have been reluctant to spend an extra £18 for the luxury of a premium reclining seat.
Anger boiled over at the end of June, when following the cancellation of Loganair flights due to fog the overnight ferry to Aberdeen was at near capacity and photos of children and elderly people sleeping rough on the floor were shared on social media.
At the time Transport Scotland said that seats had been available for all 585 passengers on board. Both passenger vessels have a capacity of 600 people.
However, it has emerged that on the night in question (30 June), due to single occupancy and Covid rules, only 286 of the vessel’s 362 cabin berth spaces were occupied, leaving 76 berths unused.
One hundred and two sleeping pods were also occupied that night.
There is a popular Facebook group allowing people to arrange informal cabin sharing as Serco NorthLink continues its stance of not allowing single travellers to share cabins following Covid restrictions.
Stove said: “This is a petition to get rid of the awful pods on NorthLink that are not fit for purpose.
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“[NorthLink managing director] Stuart Garret doesn’t seem keen to listen to folk on their complaints about NorthLink ferries and he certainly doesn’t seem willing to come up with solutions. I would suggest maybe installing couchettes.”
She said her intention was to take the petition either to Garrett or to Scottish transport minister Jenny Gilruth.
However, in a recent letter to Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart, seen by Shetland News, Transport Scotland has already ruled out the introduction of couchettes, which are bunk-style accommodation often found on sleeper trains.
They feature on the Norröna ferry for instance, the boat which links Faroe, Iceland and Denmark and used to stop off in Shetland. On board there are rooms with six bunks and shared toilet and shower facilities.
In a response to Wishart following an enquiry from a constituent, the government agency said a move towards couchettes would reduce the capacity on the vessels and therefore had been discounted by the operator.
“The suggestion from your constituent is one that has already been considered, but which was discounted on balance of overall vessel capacity, being another recognised area of importance to the island communities that we serve,” the director of aviation, maritime, freight and canals Frances Pacitti wrote on 16 June.
“In October 2019, SNF [Serco NorthLink Ferries] presented a detailed paper to the Shetland External Transport Forum detailing the reasoning behind why the sleeping pods were the chosen option. At the time, they were seen as a positive change.
“I understand customers may feel that the pods are not as comfortable as a cabin; however, they were installed at considerable cost as an improvement on the standard seating previously available, and as a more affordable alternative for passengers to cabins.
“The operator provides monthly statistics to my contract management team on pod use, which indicate that they are proving to be popular among customers.”
The petition can be found here.
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