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Transport / NorthLink passenger numbers increase by 50 per cent in last two decades

PASSENGER numbers on Northern Isles ferry services to and from Shetland have risen by more than 50 per cent since 2003.

The figures have led to further calls for extra capacity on the north boats.

They show that in 2003 there were nearly 98,000 passengers carried to and from Shetland.

By 2013 that had risen to around 133,000 before increasing further to just over 150,000 this year to date.

Freight has also significantly shot up from 153,000 lane metres in 2003 to around 350,000 this year to date.

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

The number of cars on the service has increased from nearly 18,000 in 2003 to around 28,000 in 2023 to date.

Services moved under the NorthLink name in 2002/3.

The figures were presented to a meeting of Shetland’s external transport forum on Tuesday.

There have been continued concerns over passenger and freight capacity on the north boats over the years, especially during the summer and livestock seasons.

Councillor Liz Peterson asked at what point would Serco NorthLink, which has contracted by Transport Scotland to deliver the service since 2012, consider additional sailings due to demand.

But Serco NorthLink managing director Stuart Garrett said the practicalities of introducing daytime sailings, which have been explored in the past including for summer 2023, meant this was not a viable option.

This included the time it takes to turnaround the ships and get them ready for service.

Meanwhile forum chair Councillor Moraig Lyall said: “In some ways you’re running a 2023 service with vessels that were designed for a much lower demand.”

Garrett suggested additional assets or tonnage was the most appropriate way to solve demand issues.

He told the meeting that proposed ‘freight plus’ replacements for the existing cargo boats, which would offer passenger capacity, would be a “tremendous addition” to the Northern Isles fleet.

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