Passengers on Orkney Ferries could see fares reduced by 38% in June, if proposals for a new fares structure are approved by Orkney Islands Council.
Plans to create a ‘fairer fares’ system for Orkney Ferries passengers were put forward at the Council’s Development and Infrastructure committee today, as they considered how best to make use of additional funding allocated by the Scottish Government this financial year to fully fund the operation of the county’s internal ferries.
In March this year, Orkney Islands Council was allocated specific grant funding of £7.855 million from the Scottish Government for this 2021/22 financial year to fully cover the costs of operating internal ferry services, including providing a year-round Sunday winter services across the Inner and South Isles. The grant includes funding for the Council to roll out a revised fare structure to provide fares akin to those enjoyed by other communities in Scotland.
Among the changes recommended by the committee today was an across-the-board reduction in the normal ‘base’ rate for passenger and vehicle fares, by 38%. This would see ferry fares in the Inner and South Isles costing less than a bus between Stromness and Kirkwall.
Under today’s proposals, fares would change as follows:
- Inner Isles adult passenger fare would reduce from the current £4.55 to £2.82
- Inner isles car fare would reduce from the current £14.40 down to £8.93
- Outer North Isles car fare would reduce from the current £20.90 down to £12.96
- Outer North Isles adult passenger fare would reduce from the current £8.85 down to £5.49
The committee also agreed that the 50% discount for books of 50 tickets should be reduced to 45%, with continuation of the booklets to be reviewed prior to February 2022 after consultation with island communities – going some way towards addressing the social inequalities that currently exist for passengers who cannot afford the up-front costs of bulk purchasing.
All 21 Councillors were invited to attend the meeting and take part in debate, due to the anticipated high level of interest surrounding internal ferry fares, though moving amendments and voting was reserved to members of the D&I committee.
Today’s recommendations will now be further considered by the Full Council on 31 May.
Speaking after the meeting, Chair of the Development and Infrastructure Committee, Graham Sinclair, said: “Orkney Islands Council has long campaigned for fair funding for our internal ferries, pressing the point that due to underfunding fares on our lifeline inter-island routes were some of the most expensive in Scotland.
“The Scottish Government has listened to the case we put forward – and as a result we can now introduce considerably cheaper fares on those routes and increase the service for the first time in many years.
“The committee today has recommended changes to Orkney Ferries fares that will make them more affordable to all – not just those who travel frequently and can afford to bulk purchase tickets in advance.
“The new fare structure recommended at today’s committee have been brought forward in good faith that it will encourage more people to visit the isles, and lead to more pennies in more folk’s pockets in some of Scotland’s most fragile communities.
“There is still a long way to go before our inter-island service is of the standard and frequency enjoyed elsewhere in Scotland – we will continue to engage with the Scottish Government on this, including the urgent need to replace ageing vessels in our fleet.”
The revised recommended fare structure retains a concessionary rate of 25% for elderly and disabled, and a 50% discount for juniors – on top of the proposed 38% reduction in the normal base rate.
The committee also recommended a move from minimum age of 60 to 65 to access elderly concessionary fares, in line with the local concessionary travel scheme, to be phased in over the next 5 years so those aged over 60 now will continue to be eligible for the discount.
Young people attending full time education and students with a Young Scot Card will be eligible to a 50% discount on top of the new lower fares - a significant discount to young people.
The committee recommended the new fare structure should be implemented by Orkney Ferries during June this year, and reviewed post-Covid for impacts and benefits, with communities consulted on the future of 50-ticket booklets before February.
Meantime, consultation would continue via the Air and Ferry Forum which is convened twice each year.
Today’s recommendations will be subject to approval at Full Council on 31 May.