Today the Island News and Advertiser writes about the results of a research that has been carried out into the RET scheme. RET stands for Road Equivalent Tariff, a scheme where ferry fares are being priced according to the costs for road travel. This effectively means that the Scottish Government is heavily subsidising ferry travel, which you can call a good thing as they want the island to profit from more tourism and boost the local economy. Islay is a participant in the RET scheme and since it's introduction in 2013 the fares for a ferry ticket have fallen by more than 40%. There are a few key findings from the research I'd like to quote:
- Summer fares on Islay, Colonsay and Gigha routes fell by an average of 44% and 48% for passengers and cars respectively with the introduction of RET.
- Overall passenger numbers on Islay, Colonsay and Gigha routes increased by 8% over the first two years of RET.
- Overall car numbers on the Islay, Colonsay and Gigha routes increased by 18% over the first two years of RET.
- An additional 6,444 people visited Islay in the second year of RET.
These numbers sound very positive and it looks as if the Government can give itself a pat on the back and think "Well done", and in part they should of course. But... The report mentions that an additional 6,444 people visited Islay in the second year of RET. They don't say that this is a direct result of RET as it might as well be normal growth of tourism, after all Islay is increasingly a very popular destination. Perhaps these people would have visited Islay anyway and not because of cheaper ferry costs. Continue reading....
However, for me the most important issue here is the underlying question they have failed to answer, and perhaps this wasn't in the scope of said research, and that is: How much more passengers could have travelled to Islay if they would have had enough capacity? Quite a few potential visitors would have loved to visit the island but never made it here due to ferries being fully booked or cancelled due to technical problems, both on the Islay route or elsewhere in the network. Making ferry fares cheaper is one thing, providing enough capacity to deal with the increase of commercial and normal traffic is another. That question has been raised several times before and I would love to see the outcome of such an investigation.