[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Sound of Harris ferry MV Loch Portain at Leverburgh"][/caption]
Ferry traffic across the Minch has boomed this summer. The customary three-sailings-a-day routine between Ullapool and Stornoway on Wednesdays and Fridays is coming to an end on the 28th, this coming Friday, and on not one day has the service run to timetable on those days, this summer. Reasons for this are the RET-scheme, which has seen fares slashed by half on some routes, and a favourable exchange rate for visitors from the Eurozone. Which in turn made it less attractive for British holidaymakers to go to Europe - so all flocked to the Western Isles.
RET does not apply to the ferry routes between islands in the Western Isles; more specifically, the Leverburgh to Berneray ferry (which links Harris and Uist), and Eriskay to Ardmhor (Barra). It was reported on Hebrides News tonight that fares, already much higher than on the cross-Minch routes, could be increased by another 40%, as a local subsidy scheme comes to a close on August 31st.
It appears that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar had put forward £75k, on the understanding that Highlands and Islands Enterprise would also pay out £75k. HIE have now announced that they will not honour that apparent promise, saying it is no longer part of its remit. The Scottish Government appear to have been less than helpful on their part.
Local businesses have complained that the increased transportation costs between islands could drive them to the wall. It is from my viewpoint rather unfair to have different fare-structures on different routes of the Calmac network. Yes, I know the RET is a pilot-scheme to see how it goes (roaring success), but I am also looking a bit further afield, to the Northern Isles. Orkney and Shetland are excluded from RET, and are complaining bitterly, justifiably so.
In my opinion, the Scottish Government should close the pilot for RET and implement it forthwith on all ferry routes in Scotland, if only for the sake of common fairness and equality to all islanders, irrespective of their location.