Could subsidised fares once more be reality on two ferry routes?
The reinstatement of concessionary fares on the Sound of Harris and Sound of Barra ferry routes, is set to be considered by councillors in the Western Isles when Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Transport and Infrastructure Committee meets next.
The report contains a review of the ‘impacts, costs and benefits’ of reinstating concessionary fares on the routes and is being considered after councillors backed the move as part of the Comhairle’s budget settlement process in February.
At February’s budget meetings the SNP Group of councillors proposed amending the authority’s draft budget to reintroduce the cheaper fares with funding of £10k for the move being 'financed by allocation of Savings on Loan Charges’.
The SNP group’s amendment, part of a package of proposed budget amendments was voted down by councillors, but members did back a proposal on the same issue from the Leader of the Comhairle, Cllr Roddy MacKay.
Cllr MacKay’s proposal committed the authority to consider a report on the matter at the March round of Comhairle committee meetings.
Now, an ‘initial’ impact report has been included in committee reports but with a recommendation to councillors to ‘note’ its findings.
The report being considered by councillors next week states that no provision has been made for the costs of reintroduction of the Concessionary Fare scheme for the Sounds of Barra and Harris ferry routes, and therefore ‘a funding source would need to be identified if the scheme was to be reintroduced’.
The report states that the reintroduction of fares scheme would ‘require a budget of at least £22k per annum’ and the report warns that that figure might rise significantly if the scheme is extended to cover free travel for under 19s as part of a national fares policy move by Transport Scotland.
The concessionary fares scheme was originally introduced on the routes in 2006 by the Comhairle, but, the report states, the provision of an inter-island ferry concessionary scheme was ‘a discretionary service rather than a statutory obligation’.
The Comhairle agreed in 2016 to cease the scheme as part of it budget setting process, but the report claims, the impact to the users of the services from the removal of the free travel concession ‘was mitigated by the introduction of RET fares from November 2015 where the Sound of Harris single fare reduced from £7.50 to £3.45 and the Sound of Barra single fare reduced from £8.15 to £2.95’.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Transport and Infrastructure Committee meets on Wednesday, March 24.
Cllr Gordon Murray, the leader of the SNP group of councillors was asked for comment. None had been received at the time of going to press.