Orkney's MSP, Liam McArthur, has sought assurances from the Minister for Transport over the future of ‘shared’ cabins onboard NorthLink ferry services amidst an ongoing ban on such arrangements for mixed households.
Shared passenger cabins were paused at the beginning of the pandemic. However, Mr McArthur has warned that the continued halt is causing "acute cabin capacity shortages" as more islanders and visitors seek to travel.
Orkney's MSP has also raised local fears that shared cabins may be removed altogether "under the cover of Covid", pointing out the disproportionate impact on those with concessionary travel or limited budgets.
Mr McArthur previously raised concerns with Ministers in December at which point he received commitment to a review as part of the Ferry Fares Policy in the upcoming Islands Connectivity Plan.
Commenting, Mr McArthur said:
"Shared cabins have been a long-standing feature of ferry travel in the Northern Isles. They have offered more affordable options on the lifeline service, as well as greater capacity at peak times.
"The halt to shared cabins for mixed households was an appropriate and necessary precaution during the pandemic. However, given Covid restrictions have been lifted, albeit case numbers are high at present, constituents in Orkney are rightly asking when, or even if, shared cabins will return.
"While capacity pressures existed well before the pandemic, these challenges are now returning in greater force with an acute lack of cabins. With more people travelling, and given the current cost-of-living crisis, these lifeline services must offer greater value and choice for islanders.
"I have written to the Transport Minister again, therefore, seeking an update on the review and advice to NorthLink Ferries on future cabin provision."