FERRY fare reductions are be extended to the rest of the CalMac network, including the busy routes to Mull, Bute and Cumbrae, in October 2015, transport minister Keith Brown announced today.
The extension of the “road equivalent tariff” (RET) scheme to the remaining 14 routes will see passengers and drivers of cars, vans and coaches receiving “significant fare reductions”, Mr Brown said.
However, ticket prices will not be announced for several months, and the minister said work was required on how to deal with the expected increase in the number of people wanting to travel when the fares are cut.
The scheme was launched on routes to the Western Isles and Coll and Tiree in 2008 to bring fares in to line with the cost of road travel.
Islay, Colonsay and Gigha were added in 2012, with Arran to follow suit in October.
The minister had previously said the scheme would cover all CalMac routes by March 2016.
The remaining services to be added next year are:
• Berneray – Leverburgh (Sound of Harris)
• Barra – Eriskay (Sound of Barra)
• Sconser (Skye) – Raasay
• Mallaig – Armadale (Skye)
• Mallaig – Eigg – Muck – Rum – Canna (Small Isles)
• Oban – Craignure (Mull)
• Tobermory – Kilchoan (Mull)
• Lochaline – Fishnish (Mull)
• Fionnphort (Mull) – Iona
• Oban – Lismore
• Wemyss Bay – Rothesay (Bute)
• Colintraive – Rhubodach (Bute)
• Largs – Cumbrae
• Tarbert – Portavadie
Mr Brown said: “We promised to extend RET to the remaining west coast and Clyde islands within the term of this Parliament, so I’m delighted to announce it will go ahead in October 2015.
“We have already seen the positive impact of RET on other ferry routes around Scotland. This further roll out is expected to bring similar economic and tourism benefits.
“We would expect a reduction in fares to lead to an increase in demand on these services, particularly during the summer timetable.
“We will therefore work with members of the affected communities to find ways of managing this demand.
”The Scottish Government remains committed to assessing the affordability of ferry travel to and from our island communities, with the aim of bringing in cheaper fares for islanders, tourists and businesses.”
Orkney MSP Liam McArthur said the scheme should be extended to the Northern Isles.
He said: “Mr Brown talks of his delight at extending cheaper ferry fares to every route on the west coast. The response in Orkney to this announcement, however, will be very different.
“Excluding Orkney and Shetland from the RET scheme has been politically motivated from the outset.
“It has also laid bare this SNP government’s determination to base its ferries policy on pure electoral considerations.
“Reducing the cost of getting to and from our islands can deliver enormous economic and social benefits to these communities. That is why it should be a key commitment for any government. However it must be done on the basis of fairness to all.
“Spending millions of pounds of public money targeting a scheme at some islands but not others will strike most people as unfair and unacceptable.”
The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency said it planned to extend RET to Orkney and Shetland in the longer term.
A spokesman said: “Rolling out RET for the Northern Isles now or in the next few years would mean an increase on a range of fares currently available, due to the longer distances involved.
“We have made a commitment that no one will pay more for an RET fare than their current standard single fare, therefore the intention is to phase in the introduction of RET to the Northern Isles over a longer timeframe.
“We are committed to an overarching fares policy and are considering how any such formula might best be implemented between various communities across the network.”