The BBC website announced today that a cheap island ferry plan is launched which doesn't include Islay and other important tourist destinations in Scotland such as the Orkneys. This could lead to a stagnation in tourism growth on Islay due to the cheaper fares to other islands such as the Western Isles.
A quote from the BBC report: "Some ferry fares to the Western Isles will be cut by about half. A scheme aimed at cutting the cost of ferry journeys to and from the Western Isles has been announced by the Scottish Government. The pilot scheme, involving all the main island routes, will cost about Â£22m to operate over three years. However, there have been complaints from Orkney, Shetland and Argyll that they will not be included. The announcement of a road equivalent tariff, which would link ferry prices to the cost of travelling the same distance by road, was made by Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson in Stornoway. The routes chosen for the trials are Stornoway to Ullapool; the triangular route between Uig on Skye, Tarbert on Harris and Lochmaddy in North Uist; and the routes linking Oban, South Uist, Coll, Barra and Tiree. Read more.....
In August 2007 plans were announced for a Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) pilot. A quote from the Ileach 18 August 2007: John Swinney of the new SNP led Executive has announced on Lewis that a new study of RET (Road Equivalent Tariff) will take in the Ullapool to Stornaway route of the CalMac network. In theory, RET should mean that taking a car to a Scottish island will cost no more than driving on a road of the same distance. The scheme, which has been used in Norway for some time, could provide an enormous economic boost to island communities which have to bear high transport costs. At present, it costs Â£229 for a car with driver plus three passengers to make a return trip on the CalMac Ullapool to Stornoway ferry, a total journey of around 100 miles. In a car, this could cost significantly less than Â£30 if only fuel costs were included, although exactly how an RET will be calculated is yet to be established.
The Ileach response in that same issue: The speed of the RET announcement made by the new SNP led Executive is to be commended, but the hole that politicians are digging for themselves over the cost of crossing Scottish waterways is becoming very deep indeed. If tolls on bridges are to be abolished then RET is the only politically acceptable solution for ferry fares to islands. It is politically impossible to treat one Scottish community differently to another. The SNP led Executive must know this, and so in that sense the announcement of yet another â€œstudyâ€ involving more â€œconsultantsâ€ is just another fudge, a delaying tactic designed to put off the day when RET is implemented.
It is the cost of transporting vehicles, not people, that is strangling the Scottish islands. As fudges go, a pilot scheme to the Western Isles only is unwise as it has the potential to set island communities against one another. Opposition politicians are already saying that: â€œhuge cuts in ferry fares next year to the Western Isles will damage Islayâ€™s economy by encouraging tourists to bypass Islay and visit the Western Isles instead.â€ This is absolutely true. If a couple planning their holiday have the choice between taking their themselves and their two children to Islay for Â£137.80 or to Stornaway for Â£30 then the temptation to save Â£107.80 will obviously be considerable. It is certain to lead to claims such as that made by Islay MP Alan Reid that: â€œAll the tourists will pile into that route and abandon other routes.â€ It does not take a genius to work out that any â€œpilotâ€ on a single route is therefore bound to give ludicrously distortedÂ results. The long term consequences of RET are no less mind-boggling for all that. Sweeping away the â€œÂ£100 entry feeâ€ that people are currently charged to come here has the potential to radically change Islay, as a place to live as well as a place to visit. The long term decline in the islandâ€™s population may at last be over.