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News / Making case for cheaper air fares and new NorthLink boats among policies in draft transport strategy

Sumburgh Airport.

MAKING the case for cheaper flights to the mainland and new NorthLink vessels too – as well as exploring the feasibility of fixed links within Shetland – are among the objectives listed in a new draft transport strategy which is set to go out to consultation.

The regional transport strategy, developed by local partnership ZetTrans, would provide the strategic framework for the development of transport within Shetland and to the mainland through to 2040.

People in Shetland will soon have the chance to have their say on the document in a 12-week consultation period.

Members of ZetTrans met on Thursday to approve the draft for publication.

The document contains a series of suggested policies for both internal and external transport. They include:

  we will make the case to the Scottish Government and Loganair to reduce the cost, capacity and connectivity barriers for travelling to and from the Scottish mainland for our communities and businesses;

– we will make the case to Scottish Government for new vessels for the Aberdeen – Lerwick/Kirkwall route and actively engage our communities and businesses in this process to ensure the most appropriate vessels for our routes;

– we will progress the feasibility and case for fixed links and act on the conclusions as part of our future wider inter-island connectivity planning across all modes of travel.

Other potential policies listed in the report include supporting the principle of reduced speed limits within Shetland communities, widening public transport connectivity, supporting the decarbonisation of transport and developing the island ferry network in a more “coherent” way.

The document reflects that the cost of getting to and from the Scottish mainland is a significant barrier to islanders.

It also raises capacity issues both on external ferry links but also in local services during peak times.

The report suggests that vessels could be used more often on the busiest inter-island ferry routes – referring to the timetables in place prior to cuts in 2013.

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There is also a suggestion that the ferry service “could be progressively scaled-up to operate over a 24- hour period” – but there is an acknowledgement this would not help peak periods.

“It may simply be the case that peak demand cannot be accommodated on certain routes,” the report adds.

“This presents a clear strategic choice in future route planning between catering for larger or more vessels (potentially operating on a shorter sea crossing where practical) or moving towards a fixed link.

“From a cost of travel perspective, it is possible to reduce fares and/or reform the structure of the fares system.

“However, there are significant complexities in how such a reduction could best be introduced as well as funding and potential capacity implications (given increased travel volumes) which would have to be thought through.”

For the government subsidised NorthLink ferries the report accepts the challenges the operator has in balancing differing needs with a fixed asset base and a “tightly defined contract”.

But it adds: “It is evident that a vessel replacement plan for the current NorthLink vessels must be identified through the ongoing Islands Connectivity Plan being undertaken by Transport Scotland.

“The proposal to introduce new ‘freight plus’ vessels to replace the current freighters is a potentially useful start, but a clearly defined replacement plan for the current Ro-Pax vessels is required. This should consider the potential use of Aberdeen South Harbour.”

NorthLink passenger ferry Hjaltland arriving into Lerwick Harbour. Photo: Shetland News

The report also says that ZetTrans can continue to “make the case for improvements to the current service, including booking arrangements, capacity allocation, timetables and vessel and terminal facilities”.

When it comes to flights off Shetland, the report says ZetTrans can continue to make the case to private operator Loganair for “reduced fares, increased booking flexibility, additional flights and the introduction of more modern aircraft”.

“We will also work with Loganair to continue to ensure that external flight timetables are as well matched to bus services from Sumburgh as possible,” it continues.

“We will also continue to work with the Scottish Government to make the case for maintaining and extending the ADS scheme and exploring legislatively compliant discount schemes for those travelling on business from Shetland.”

The strategy also supports exploring decarbonising local transport solutions, including inter-island ferry services.

It highlights there is an “increasingly urgent need for a funded vessel replacement programme or alternative solution” to the council’s ageing boats.

“To help deliver our climate change targets, zero or low emission vessels and wider opportunities such as more efficient hull designs and alternative anti-foul paints must be considered as part of this process,” the report says.

“However, while EVs can be beneficial for passenger cars and buses, they are not currently practical for most shipping (although electric power may be viable for the shortest routes). There is potential scope for hydrogen to be used in heavier vehicles such as ferries (as well as larger vehicles like HGVs) as it can fuel longer distances and / or facilitate higher load capacities.

“There may also be specific opportunities in the deployment of hydrogen fuel sources in Shetland given our aim to have a prominent role in producing wind powered green hydrogen over the next decade. 

“To help deliver our climate change targets, it will be necessary to continue to monitor advances in ferry fuel technology and seek to progressively introduce new low or zero emissions vessels and/or retrofit our existing fleet where feasible and practical.

“Beyond the ferry fleet, there is also a need to support Council ports and Lerwick Port Authority in realising opportunities in offshore wind farm construction and operations and maintenance in order to support our wider climate change goals.”

There was little debate on the report itself at Thursday’s meeting, but members were keen for the impending consultation to involve as many people as possible.

The transport partnership was told that the consultation will be open to people aged 16 and over.

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