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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 February 2008, 15:20 GMT
Cheap island ferry plan launched
Cal Mac ferry
Some ferry fares to the Western Isles will be cut by about half
A scheme aimed at cutting the cost of ferry journeys to and from the Western Isles has been announced by the Scottish Government.

The pilot scheme, involving all the main island routes, will cost about 22m to operate over three years.

Locals say the current 140 return car fare from the mainland to Stornoway holds back tourism and development.

However, there have been complaints from Orkney, Shetland and Argyll that they will not be included.

The announcement of a road equivalent tariff, which would link ferry prices to the cost of travelling the same distance by road, was made by Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson in Stornoway.

Stewart Stevenson
We want this test case to pave the way for cheaper fares for all our island communities
Stewart Stevenson
Transport Minister

The routes chosen for the trials are Stornoway to Ullapool; the triangular route between Uig on Skye, Tarbert on Harris and Lochmaddy in North Uist; and the routes linking Oban, South Uist, Coll, Barra and Tiree.

Car passenger fares will be set at 5 plus 60p a mile, while prices for pedestrians and goods vehicles will also be greatly reduced. That could see the cost of the Stornoway to Ullapool service cut by a third, while the price of the sailing from Oban to Barra could be halved.

The scheme is modelled on a successful project in Norway.

Mr Stevenson said: "For years, our remote and fragile communities have been expressing concerns about the affordability of ferry travel and the impact this has on islanders.

"Expensive fares can be damaging, not only to our local economies, but to our national economy, and this Scottish Government wants to take action.

Cal Mac ticket desk
Ministers said the move would have immediate benefits for islanders

"While initially focussing a pilot on the Western Isles, we want this test case to pave the way for cheaper fares for all our island communities."

The announcement was welcomed by Western Isles SNP MSP Alasdair Allan, who said it marked the culmination of a 40-year wait for cheaper ferry prices.

Mr Allan added: "This is the biggest transformation of island transport services in a generation and will have, I believe, immediate benefits for businesses, tourism and shops, as well as individual islanders."

Critics have raised concerns that the pilot would draw visitors away from those routes which do not have subsidised tariffs, while islanders on Orkney and Shetland are angry that they have not been included.

Donald John McSween, a Labour councillor on the Western Isles, warned that only including certain routes in the pilot would produce a "skewed result".

"I think there's a greater danger here for communities which don't get RET in the first instance because the next thing that will happen is that they will lose their ferries," he said.

Shetlands MSP Tavish Scott said his constituents did not understand why they were being left out of the pilot.

He said: "We argued to be included and they've left out Orkney, Shetland and indeed the Argyll Islands in this study.

"People here are slightly wondering 'is it to do with the SNP hold on the Western Isles?', because if that were the reason that's not a good reason to base policy."

Reaction to the proposals

Ferry fares pilot 'on all routes'
21 Feb 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Lower ferry fares to be piloted
13 Aug 07 |  Highlands and Islands
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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