Orkney MSP Liam McArthur and Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart today criticised the Scottish Government for backtracking on previous commitments to protect the value of concessionary ferry vouchers used by islanders on the Aberdeen route in light of NorthLink’s withdrawal of ‘shared’ cabins.
In a recent letter to Mr McArthur, the Transport Minister, Kevin Stewart confirmed that customers with concessionary travel vouchers will have to continue to use two vouchers in order to book an individual cabin, or else make up the cost out of their own pocket.
The statement reverses an earlier commitment from the Minister’s predecessor, Jenny Gilruth in a meeting with Mr McArthur and Ms Wishart to speak to NorthLink about the shared cabins policy and look to ‘protect’ the value of concessionary vouchers. The current Minister has now delayed any possible government intervention until a future ‘wider consideration of fares policy’.
While the change in policy on ‘shared’ cabins was originally introduced as a Covid safety measure, NorthLink and Transport Scotland have refused to reintroduce the option despite the lifting of pandemic restrictions. Shared cabins were a popular cost-saving measure on NorthLink ferries, and Northern Isles residents have now resorted to coordinating journeys over social media to get around the ban.
Mr McArthur said:
“Only a few weeks into the role, and Kevin Stewart has chucked overboard earlier reassurances from his predecessor on shared cabins and protecting the value of concessionary vouchers. Any prospect of change has been left to drift over the horizon towards an unspecified future review.
“The current policy on shared cabins has essentially halved the value of concessionary travel vouchers for many islanders forced to use both their yearly vouchers for a single return journey if they want a cabin. With NorthLink refusing to budge and Transport Scotland refusing to change their voucher policy, the only way of breaking the impasse is for the Minister to intervene.
“Given the strength of feeling on this issue locally, Mr Stewart needs to reconsider his refusal to address this problem.”
Ms Wishart said:
“Shared cabins have operated on the Northern Isles route for decades as a means to save money on the cost of travelling in and out of Shetland and Orkney.
“Transport Scotland is using Covid as the excuse to prevent shared cabins and consequently row back on the annual concessionary entitlement.
“The Scottish Government should restore the full entitlement, instead of hiding behind Covid and reducing entitlement by stealth.
“The route from Lerwick to Aberdeen is a 12-14 hour journey. It is not unreasonable for passengers to want to sleep lying flat for the overnight crossing, something you cannot do in a reclining chair or pod, and be properly rested for onward travel and commitments.
“I have already written to the new Transport Minister twice since he has been in post to put across the strong feelings of islanders on these issues.”