Hauliers reprieve from huge ferry fares hike

HAULIERS ferry fare increases will be on a par with the rise in general passenger fares, said Transport Minister Keith Brown.

Speaking to the Gazette following the publication of the final Scottish Ferries Plan, Mr Brown said hauliers could expect to pay a 10 per cent increase rather than the feared 50% which is similar to the rise in the fares for the general public.

Passengers to and from the Western Isles will see an increase in ticket prices of 8-10 per cent in March which reflects the rising costs of keep a car.

Mr Brown said: “There are particular circumstances in the Western Isles where hauliers had RET for a while and they need to get back to a place where they are paying comparable prices.”

The additional revenue from the new RET formula is to be reinvested in order to reduce the impact of the removal of RET for commercial vehicles, however Mr Brown said the general fares were due to go up anyway and the public were not being penalised to support the hauliers.

“We are trying to manage the situation as best we can, the hauliers were worried about a 50 per cent increase, they increase they are going to have is the same as passengers and cars.”Despite this reprieve for the hauliers this year, they will continue to see fare rises in the future.

Earlier this week the Outer Hebrides Commerce Group expressed very strong concerns that an additional 50 per cent in fares would have a devastating effect on the local economy, today they said they were still bitterly disappointed with the 10 per cent increase.

Mr Brown said the results of research on the assessment of removal RET for commercial vehicles would be published early in the new year. He added that there had been joint agreement between the Scottish Government and the hauliers on the scope of the study.

The addition of a Lochboisdale-Mallaig ferry link is also to be looked at by the Scottish Government as part of the new ferries contract.

“ We will consider that in the medium term, there have been a number of calls for us to have a look at this, we have also heard quite different views on Barra, for next contract, seems logical time to look at this again,” he said.

He also confirmed that the inter-island routes on the Sound of Barra and Sound of Harris would benefit from RET in the term of this parliament but not in the immediate future.

Additional sailings from South Uist and Barra to the mainland during the winter would have cost implications not covered by the rise in fares, he said, but that this was ‘the nature of lifeline services’.

Finally the Gazette asked Mr Brown if arrangements had been made to cover the freight service between Stornoway and Ullapool when MV Muirneag is withdrawn from service next year.

He said: “We don’t expect any problems with that, it is an important service, there is no update on this just now but Scottish Government officials are looking to procure a vessel.”

For full details of the Scottish Ferries Plan Click here