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Transport / Wishart wants to see more accessible cabins on NorthLink’s ferries

NorthLink passenger ferry Hjaltland berthing at Holmsgarth. Photo: Shetland News

SHETLAND MSP Beatrice Wishart has called for more accessible cabins on board the NorthLink ferries following feedback from constituents.

She is also keen to see a change in policy for booking accessible cabins.

The Liberal Democrat MSP has also suggested that naval architects meet with travellers with experience to help inform new ship design on accessibility.

Wishart recently undertook a survey to gauge people’s experiences on booking the NorthLink ferry.

It comes amid continued concern over the cabin capacity on the Hjaltland and Hrossey this summer.

The Northern Isles ferry service is operated by Serco NorthLink but contracted out by government agency Transport Scotland.

Wishart’s survey attracted 200 responses within 24 hours and in less than two weeks over 1,000 people had completed the survey.

Only 77 responses were received from those out with Shetland, and many of those were from Orkney and Aberdeen with connections to the isles, meaning that around one in 20 people currently residing in Shetland completed the questionnaire.

Around 65 per cent of respondents, over 650 people, also took the time to provide comments about the booking system and their wider experiences using the service.

Some of the comments about disability and accessible cabins included:

  • “Travel as a disabled person is extremely hard to organise.”
  • “Cannot use pods or recliners due to disability.”
  • “I am disabled and ideally need a space I can make sterile to administer medications.”
  • “Nowhere else in Britain would a disabled person be forced to endure this.”
Lib Dem MSP Beatrice Wishart.

Wishart commented: “I’d like to thank all who took part in my survey. I am not aware that Serco NorthLink Ferries, Transport Scotland or the Scottish Government have undertaken a survey of passengers on this scale, and I hope the results help to illustrate the needs of islanders and their views on the current arrangements.

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“I believe the strength of the response to this survey demonstrates the deep concern in the community about the service.

“Responses from my survey show that passengers value the work of Serco NorthLink staff who try to accommodate passengers and their needs, but it highlights that bookings for accessible cabins are not always achievable for passengers with accessibility needs.

“We need a secure system that can allow those with accessibility needs to book a cabin without necessarily revealing their needs to a stranger. There needs to be enough accessible cabins available for those needing them on each passage.

“In the future we will need vessels that meet the needs of 21st century travel, but for now it should not be necessary to have to speak up, revealing intimate information about yourself, to secure the accommodation you need.”

Wishart has highlighted the issue to transport minister Fiona Hyslop.

In response, a spokesperson for Transport Scotland said: “We value passenger feedback and will consider this report in detail, alongside NorthLink, once received.

“NorthLink’s passenger ferries to Shetland and Orkney provide a full range of facilities for those with accessibility requirements. All passenger vessels have accessible cabins, and the ferries are equipped with Changing Place facilities.

“The operator will of course, help any customer that requires any additional assistance when planning or during a journey.

“When considering any new vessels in the future accessibility options will be considered as part of this and in line with the relevant regulations and authorities.”

A representative of Serco NorthLink said the operator did not wish to comment on the matter.

The Hjaltland and Hrossey have been on the go since 2002 and whilst replacements are due in the longer term they will remain in service for a while yet.

New freight vessels are due in the coming years and there is the potential for the ships to have extra cabin space for passengers.

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