Page last updated at 16:45 GMT, Wednesday, 14 October 2009 17:45 UK

Ferries competition inquiry ends

Red Funnel courtesy of
The companies had said they all welcomed the study

A competition inquiry into Isle of Wight ferry services will not be taken any further, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has said.

The OFT carried out the study into services between the mainland and the island following a complaint signed by 8,000 people.

It subsequently held a two-month consultation on its findings.

The OFT said customer satisfaction could be improved and more performance information could be given to users.

But the OFT concluded the matter should not be referred to the Competition Commission.

Red Funnel and Wightlink offer vehicle and passenger ferry services to and from the Isle of Wight, while Hovertravel provides a passenger-only service.

People had complained about high prices, unclear charging and declining service.

Isle of Wight ferry services
Red Funnel:
Car ferry service: East Cowes to Southampton
Passenger fastcat: West Cowes to Southampton
Car ferry service: Fishbourne to Portsmouth
Car ferry service: Yarmouth and Lymington, Hampshire
Passenger fastcat: Ryde to Portsmouth
Passenger service: Ryde to Southsea

But the OFT found the ferry services were reasonably frequent, comprehensive and reliable.

It said there were barriers for new competitors, such as limited room on the island for berthing facilities, but these were not caused by the ferry operators.

"The OFT's study found limited evidence of problems for consumers that interventions in this market could address, but found room for improvement both in customer satisfaction levels and the amount of information available to users on the performance of the ferry operators," a statement said.

Isle of Wight MP Andrew Turner, who led the campaign for an inquiry into the ferry companies, said although he was "disappointed" with the decision to take no further action, he was pleased there would be more information available to the public in future about pricing and services.

He said he was also pleased the ferry companies would be undertaking customer satisfaction surveys.

In June it was revealed that during the initial OFT inquiry, emails sent by the public were "accidentally deleted".

The OFT admitted 10 to 15 emails, submitted between 17 February and 10 March, had been read but were later deleted.

At the time, it said it had subsequently asked members of the public to resubmit their comments.

James Fulford, Red Funnel chief executive officer, said the company welcomed the OFT's conclusion.

He said: "However a review like this always throws up findings that we can all learn from, and we welcome the OFT's suggestion that we publish clear information for consumers to share as part of our ongoing focus on improving our service."

He added that the company had undertaken a number of initiatives to improve communication and will be publishing monthly research into customer satisfaction.

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