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Transport / Government to consider providing free foot fares to under 22s on inter-island ferries

Bluemull ferry Bigga approaching the Belmont ferry terminal. Photo Shetland News

THE GOVERNMENT will take forward “detailed consideration” of a proposal to give free foot passenger travel on council ferries to Scottish island residents aged under 22.

The news was contained in a new draft long term strategy published by Scottish Government agency Transport Scotland today (Thursday).

It will be a welcome update for campaigners who have long felt aggrieved that the successful Scotland-wide scheme to give free bus travel to under 22s introduced in 2022 was not extended to inter-island ferries.

They argued that for many islanders, going on an internal ferry was equivalent to taking a bus.

Transport Scotland said in its new Island Connectivity Plan strategic approach document that it will take forward consideration of a proposal to “provide free foot passenger travel on inter-island ferries for under 22-year-old island residents within the Outer Hebrides, Orkney, and Shetland Island groups”.

This proposal is slightly different to the bus scheme, as it would only be for island residents rather than for everyone.

At the moment in Shetland an adult pays £2.80 foot fare on the majority of the inter-island ferries, with children aged up to 19 paying 80 pence.

Shetland’s internal ferry service is operated by the council.

In recent years the Scottish Government has stepped in to provide ‘fair ferry funding’ to enable Shetland Islands Council to cover the deficit in running services.

In 2021 an island impact assessment on the then plans to provide free bus travel to under 22s concluded that the scheme should not be extended to ferries.

It noted the ways which funding of bus, air and ferry travel differ, suggesting this has “implications in considering whether they should form part of the free bus travel scheme”.

The assessment added that the “great majority of ferry services are in public hands and paid for by the public purse and would not readily fit into the current concessionary travel scheme or the new Young Persons Scheme”.

Meanwhile it was announced last year that the concessionary vouchers scheme for the NorthLink ferries, which gives some free NorthLink ferry travel to 16 to 18 year old islanders, is being extended to all young people under 22.

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