The CalMac Community Board was disappointed to hear through the media at its meeting last Friday of a proposal to manage capacity issues on west coast and islands ferry services by increasing fares on some routes.
The board believes RET (Road Equivalent Tariff) - a Scottish Government scheme that links ferry fares to the cost of travelling an equivalent distance by road - has been a huge success in both increasing economic activity and creating jobs but also in starting to address the cost inequalities for ordinary people who live on our islands.
Angus Campbell, chairman of the Community Board added: “Bearing in mind the continuing demographic challenges faced by our island communities, it is surprising to think of damaging that success by curtailing demand by increasing prices rather than addressing the core issue of investment in fleet capacity and resilience.
“The board questions whether such a proposal has been island-proofed against the legislation contained in the Islands Act 2018 which is designed to prevent further disadvantage to our island communities.
“The Community Board has consistently offered to work with Transport Scotland, CalMac and CMAL, not only to explore ways of dealing fairly with the immediate challenges but also to help develop a new long-term ambitious Ferries Plan to help grow our islands and communities to the benefit of all.
“The Board is therefore disappointed that a proposal has been made that may have an adverse effect on the communities that are being served by CalMac without any consultation with those communities.
“The Board recognises that there is a need for urgent action to address the capacity constraints on the ferry network but does not believe that this proposal is an acceptable solution.”
Transport secretary Michael Matheson said increasing fares is a proposal included in the Scottish Ferries Plan, which sets out the future of services until 2022.
He said: “It was an option that was set out within the ferry plan looking at the possibility of trying to manage demand, particularly in routes that have got Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) in place and the demand that’s increased on these particular routes.
“What we’ve said is that that allows us to look at a number of different options. So for example, it could be the option of higher fares at peak times or it could be the option of incentives at off-peak times, where there’s capacity on the ferry.
“Is there a way in which we can try to shift some of that demand to utilise the resource much more effectively?
“So there’s a variety of different things we could look at there to try and help to deal with some of the additional demand.”
Mr Matheson added that any move to introduce peak-fare pricing would not necessarily apply to all routes and would be done in consultation with communities impacted by ferry services.
“One of the things I think is particularly important here is that it’s not something that may be necessary on every route,” he said.
“It may be just on some specific routes at specific times, there’s a need for some sort of demand management arrangements to be put in place.
“Anything around this will be looked at on that basis. But in doing that, I’m also very clear about the need to make sure that we engage with the local community, both at an individual level and also for local businesses.
“So if we are looking at doing that on any particular routes, there will be engagement within the local community around that.
“Any demand management arrangements that are put in place would be put in place with the agreement of the local community.”