Shetland Ferry Fares To Fall

by Alastair Hamilton -

The fares on the ferry services that connect Shetland to the Scottish mainland and Orkney are to be significantly reduced.

Two modern ferries, the Hjaltland and the Hrossey, provide a nightly service between Lerwick and Aberdeen in both directions. Some sailings also include a call at Kirkwall in Orkney. Southbound, the direct sailings leave Lerwick at 1900 or (if the voyage is via Kirkwall) 1730. Northbound, the ship leaves Aberdeen at either 1900 or 1700.

The ships are identical and include very comfortable, en-suite cabin accommodation in either two-berth or four-berth configurations. It’s possible to book an entire cabin or to reserve a berth in one. Other sleeping options include specially-designed ‘pods’ and reclining seats. Full catering and entertainment facilities are provided, including bars, a restaurant, a cafeteria and a cinema.

Island residents have always enjoyed a reduction in the fare, but the new scheme, to be introduced in the first half of 2018, will help both islanders and visitors. The Scottish Government has been working for some time on ways of cutting travel costs and the solution will be a version of what’s known as ‘Road Equivalent Tariff’, a concept that seeks to relate travel costs by sea to equivalent journeys by road. A similar scheme has been in operation on Scotland’s west coast, but has had to be modified – by applying a lower cost per mile – to take account of the distance between Lerwick and Aberdeen, which is 218 miles.

On a recent visit to Shetland, the Minister for Transport and the Islands, Humza Yousaf, announced that foot passenger fares would fall by an average of more than 40%. Car fares will be reduced by an average of more than 30%.

Mr Yousaf said:

“During my first visit to the Northern Isles as Transport Minister I committed to ensuring we would reduce ferry fares as soon as practically possible. It was a clear manifesto commitment and I’m very pleased we are now in a position to announce when that pledge will be delivered.

“This reduction in fares will make ferry travel to and from the Northern Isles even more attractive for islanders and tourists. It also brings fares into line with those on the Clyde and Hebrides network, ensuring parity and supporting our aim of having one overarching fares policy across our ferry services.

“Detailed analysis is being carried out on the potential impact on demand and options to mitigate capacity issues will also be investigated, given the likely rise in passenger numbers.

“The Scottish Government is committed to supporting our island communities and this fares reduction scheme will ensure our lifeline ferry services remain affordable for the people that depend on them, whilst also helping support the economy of the Northern Isles.”

This reduction in fares will make ferry travel to and from the Northern Isles even more attractive for islanders and tourists

The new fares scheme will bring fares for islanders and non-islanders into line, with fares for islanders capped to ensure that they’re no higher than before. That will produce very useful and, in some cases, dramatic savings, particularly in peak season, when the single fare for two people and a car will be approximately £110. That’s a saving of almost £50 for islanders and £118 for non-islanders.

There has, understandably, been a general welcome for the proposals. As the Minister’s comments recognise, it seems likely that demand will increase. The very deep cut in fares for non-islanders will almost certainly lead to growth in the numbers of visitors choosing to visit Shetland, with benefits to the local economy.

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