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Last Updated: Monday, 13 August 2007, 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK
Lower ferry fares to be piloted
ferry
High ferry charges have been seen as a barrier to economic growth
Low-cost ferry fares to and from the Western Isles are to be piloted as part of a government study.

Finance Secretary John Swinney announced the first phase towards delivering "road equivalent tariffs" (RET) during a visit to Lewis.

RET bases the cost of travelling on the equivalent distance by road.

The SNP made lowering the cost of trips to the isles, which have been seen as a barrier to economic growth, a key commitment in its election manifesto.

This approach would not just benefit islanders by providing cheaper fares but could also boost island economies by attracting tourists and supporting businesses
John Swinney
Finance Secretary

Mr Swinney said the study would look at how RET could be tested on a route, or routes, to the isles.

He said: "I believe that the way forward is to consider the benefits of introducing a road equivalent tariff (RET) approach to setting fares in Scotland.

"This approach would not just benefit islanders by providing cheaper fares but could also boost island economies by attracting tourists and supporting businesses."

Transport body Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership in Scotland (Hitrans) has previously estimated that 700 jobs and 22m a year could be generated by reducing ferry fares to the Western Isles by 30%.

In May last year, the previous Scottish Executive introduced cheaper air fares for people living in parts of the Highlands and Islands.

The 40% discount scheme, costing an estimated 11m a year, applies to trips to Scotland's main airports.

FARES FACTFILE
The scheme could slash the cost of a return ticket between Ullapool and Stornoway from 200 to 30
The first phase of the study will review approaches to fare setting for public service ferries in other countries, including the RET approach
The study will run this year and a pilot scheme is expected to be launched early next year

Discounts are available to passengers living in the Northern and Western Isles and those in Islay, Jura and Caithness.

Alf Baird, a professor of maritime transport, said cheaper travel by sea was welcome but added there should be a move away from state-owned services.

Mr Baird, of Napier University's Transport Research Institute, lives on Orkney.

He said that compared to road and rail users, ferry travellers were being "penalised" by the fares they were having to pay.

He said: "There are also other issues - ferry users are looking for frequency, faster ferries and later services.

"The government needs to remember ferry services within the islands. Here in Orkney, it is quite a big expense for people on Hoy and Flotta to travel to Kirkwall for work."

Mr Baird added that ferry services should be taken under the wing of government agency Transport Scotland.

He said: "Transport Scotland is responsible for roadways and railways and has a budget in excess of 2bn. That agency should also be responsible for maritime transport."


SEE ALSO
A ferry user's views on low fares
13 Aug 07 |  Highlands and Islands
Call made for cheaper ferry fares
11 Sep 06 |  Highlands and Islands
Isles air fares scheme takes off
18 May 06 |  Scotland

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