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Transport / No clarity as to when NorthLink bookings will open beyond end of September

The NorthLink passenger ferry Hrossey arriving at Lerwick harbour. Photo: Austin Taylor

PRESSURE is building once again on NorthLink and Transport Scotland to urgently open up bookings on the Northern Isles’ lifeline ferry service to allow islanders to plan their travel beyond 30 September.

It took until the middle of January before the ferry company was able to accept any bookings beyond 1 April, leaving many islanders in limbo with regards to their Easter holiday planning.

A timetable, as well as ferry fares, was published for just six months rather than for the whole financial year like in previous years.

Because the lifeline service is subsidised by the Scottish Government, fares are being set in conjunction with government agency Transport Scotland.

This week, neither Transport Scotland nor transport minister Kevin Stewart were able to give any indication as to when bookings would become available other than saying that it would be  “as soon as possible”.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart said: “Shetlanders need lifeline services that are fit for purpose. We need action now from the Scottish Government to fix the ferry booking system as well as the known capacity issues.

“Being told to ‘book ahead’ isn’t possible when NorthLink can’t take bookings. Shetland residents have been telling me of their inability to book their passage on the Northern Isles route on the dates they want to travel.

“The nature of island living means that many want to book their Shetland to mainland travel now for the October school holidays and the festive period, something this central-belt focused SNP-Green Government do not seem to understand.”

The council’s environment and transport committee chair Moraig Lyall said she had raised the issue during the last meeting of the islands’ transport forum, and would continue to put pressure on ministers whenever she had the chance to do so.

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