A pilot scheme of cheaper ferry fares for all Western Isles routes to the mainland is to be extended for a further year.
The Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) scheme has reduced ferry fares by up to half for all users and was introduced on routes in October 2008. Earlier this year, emerging evidence reported an increase in travel and local businesses are working with Highlands and Islands Enterprise to maximise the benefits of the scheme, which will now be extended until spring 2012.
Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:
“Extending this pilot scheme will bring further opportunities for the island communities and businesses to maximise the benefits of this scheme. The emerging evidence of increased traffic earlier this year is welcome, particularly in this challenging economic climate. We want to do all we can to protect and support our remote and fragile island communities. By continuing this scheme for a further year, we can continue to examine ways of delivering a longer term fairer, cheaper system for every ferry user.”
Margaret McSporran of Highlands and Islands Enterprise said:
"The Scottish Government’s decision to extend the Road Equivalent Tariff pilot is welcome news for businesses and communities in the Outer Hebrides, Coll and Tiree.
"This will allow the pilot to continue to operate while the Government carries out a detailed assessment of its economic impact.
"We look forward to seeing the results of the assessment early next year."
Bill Lewis, chairman of Co Chomunn na Hearadh, which runs Clachan Stores in Leverburgh, said:
"We are certainly seeing more visitors, and particularly camper vans, which has had a significant effect on our sales in our shop. A recent expansion to our shop has allowed us to increase the range of goods and brands to our customers. Last year sales were up 25% since the introduction of RET and this year they are up another 10%. There is no doubt that RET has had a significant impact on visitor numbers to the islands coming from Britain and all over the continent."
Andrew Morrison, manager of the Harris Hotel in Tarbert, said:
"We have experienced another busy summer in Harris. The season began early, with a busy Easter period at the start of April and this trend continued throughout May. June and July figures were both up on last year, and for these two months, room occupancy was at 99%. August seems to be continuing in the same fashion.
“RET undoubtedly continues to benefits these islands and is often remarked upon by guests, both those visiting for the first time and those who paid the previously higher fares before the introduction of the scheme. It is very possible that if RET were not to continue, people would highlight a new higher-cost fare as a reason not to visit the Outer Hebrides, so the continuation of this scheme is vital to the future well-being of these islands."
Gordon Maclennan from Stornoway Plastics in Lewis said:
"The island has been snowed under with visitors. Every ferry sailing is the same - it has been very busy. RET has been a real success story in the islands and the area is booming. We moved into a new premises recently which is eight times bigger than our previous building. Although our business has been quieter in Stornoway, our shop in Back has been snowed under with tourists."
Norman Macleod from Lochmaddy’s Taigh Chearsabhaigh Museum and Arts Centre in North Uist, said:
"Taigh Chearsaibhaigh is positioned next to the ferry terminal which is a bonus and no doubt helps to attract the additional visitors. There was a big jump in numbers of visitors in June. Takings are up at the museum, café and shop. The numbers for July are saturated - we can't get any more people on to the boats. If it wasn't for RET, things would be very different. There are a lot of caravanettes and caravans in the islands. Many other businesses in the Uists are seeing a big jump in their takings. RET has given us a lifeline here in the Uists."
RET involves setting ferry fares on the basis of the cost of travelling an equivalent tariff by road. The relevant routes are Ullapool – Stornoway, Uig to Tarbert (Harris)/Lochmaddy (North Uist) and Oban – Castlebay (Barra), Lochboisdale (South Uist) and Oban to Coll and Tiree.