In March 2008 I published a story about Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) on my blog which was originally published in the Ileach Newspaper. Back then there were worries about the effects of this new pilot scheme. The RET scheme is a way to lower ferry fares to a level which is more or less equal as by travelling that same distance by road. Agreed was to hold a pilot for almost three years to the islands of the Outer Hebrides including the Southern Hebridean islands of Coll and Tiree. This meant that ferry fares were lowered considerably on these routes while the fares for the other Scottish islands remained the same.
It doesn't come as a surprise that the islands participating in the RET scheme received a lot more visitors. You might think that it's good for the economy of the islands and it probably is, but RET has some nasty side effects as well. On the Isle of Coll there are problems with the huge number of camper vans destroying the Machair due to a 62% rise in the number of cars visting Coll over last year. Continue reading.....
Another side effect is a fall in passengers on the ferry routes that don't participate in this scheme. On the Islay Oban ferry route as a whole the number of passengers was down by 14% and cars by 11%. That doesn't necessarily mean that 14% less passengers visited Islay, perhaps these people came by plane instead, but it does mean that the Outer Hebridean islands benefit from this scheme while other islands such as Islay don't benefit or perhaps even see visitor numbers fall. That was one of the reasons for Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott to make an appeal to scrap the RET scheme altogether and introduce lower fares on all routes, according to an article in the Press and Journal.
A quote: Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott has renewed his call to scrap the road equivalent tariff (RET) pilot scheme in the Western Isles and instead introduce lower ferry fares on all routes. Last month, the Scottish Government published preliminary figures for the first nine months showing passengers on the pilot routes had already risen 14% and car traffic was up by 23%. Since then, the Lib Dems have released figures that show the number of people travelling by ferry to Orkney, Shetland and other west coast islands fell between October 2008 and June. Passenger numbers on the Mull of Kintyre-Islay, Colonsay and Oban route fell by 14% and cars by 11%.
Martin Fleet, of Orkney Tourism Group, and Janet Davidge, chairwoman of the Shetland Retailers Association, claimed RET had had an impact on trade and called for the scheme to be extended across all island communities to ensure a â€œlevel playing fieldâ€. Shetland MSP Mr Scott said the success of the pilot scheme was self-evident and the money used to run it until May 2011 should be reinvested in cutting fares on all routes. â€œThe high growth in traffic to the Western Isles compared to elsewhere shows that tourists wanting to visit Scottish islands have voted with their wallets and chosen the cheaper option,â€ he said. A Scottish Government spokesman said ministers wanted the pilot scheme to â€œpave the way for cheaper fares for all island communitiesâ€. â€œThe final phase of the study will involve a full evaluation of the pilot exercise and offer options for rolling the scheme out to our other island communities,â€ he said.