The latest edition of The Ileach, the fortnightly newspaper for Islay, has a very interesting collection of letters on issues around ferries and fares.
It seems that in recent editions Alan Reid MP and local LibDem Councillor, Robin Currie have been displaying their inability to understand how Road Equivalent Tariff fares work. They have evidently been complaining about how little a real saving RET offers compared to the price per ticket achievable on the former discount available on a book of six.
The point is that RET fares are calculated on a distance basis so discounts cannot be applied to multiple tickets.
One letter, from Douglas Tott, focuses on the range of complaints about the RET fares Islay now enjoys. Another, from Jack Fleming and Paul Graham, explains how the proposed Islay Community Ferry would work and asks for a show of support at a public meeting this Wednesday – 24th October - at 7.30pm at Ionad Chaluim Chille Ile.
One matter in this letter we do not understand is that it declares that this ferry would be operated by the Scottish Government – which must surely mean by CalMac – ‘in conjunction with at least one CalMac ferry’ and, along with CalMac, charging RET fares.
If this can be said in a public letter with such absolute certainty it must mean that it has already been agreed with the Scottish Government - in advance of the publication of the final ferries provision policy to be contained in the as yet unpublished Scottish Ferries Review. Cart before horse?
If this is indeed what has happened, we are back in the land of amateur government where procedural integrity is at a genuine discount. Saddle up for the OK Corral, folks.
Sandwiched between these letters, is a totally fascinating proposition for the man who invented Road Equivalent Tariff pricing, Roy Pedersen from Inverness.
Mr Pedersen says that frequency of service and journey times are more powerful builders of ferry traffic than fares.
He spells out the results of moving the Islay-Jura ferry service to the short run across the Sound of Jura from Keills in Knapdale to Lagg on Jura, just north of Craighouse, on upgraded roads to Keills and from Lagg to Feolin for the short ferry across the Sound of Islay to Port Askaig.
He quickly tots up the cost of building the new CalMac ferry, Finlaggan, for the two and a quarter hour run from Kennacraig to Port Ellen; and of making modifications to the harbours at Port Ellen and Port Askaig to enable them to handle this bigger ferry. It comes, he says, to around £40 million.
That, he shows, should cover the cost – £4 million – of buying a Sea Transport Corporation 35 vehicle ferry for the Keills-Lagg route, leaving £36 million to cover the road upgrades and the two terminals involved.
Mr Pedersen identifies the benefits of this route – which being short, would be high frequency, as:
- cutting journey times between Lochgilphead and Islay by 35 minutes to Port Ellen and by over an hour to Port Askaig;
- offering achievable day returns for business meetings in the Central Belt or in Oban;
- doubling the daily vehicle-shifting capacity;
- cutting ferry fares to 50% below RET – and Mr Pedersen does know what he’s talking about here;
- substantially reducing or even eliminating the need for state subsidy;
- cutting carbon emissions per car for the journey by six sevenths
This is the sort of unfettered visionary thinking that really floats our boat.
And what Mr Pedersen does not mention is the serious economic benefit this route could bring to the Isle of Jura – not only in access frequency, speed and fare costs for its own residents and visitors – but to Craighouse businesses. Just the right place to stop at a great coffee shop, lunch at te Antlers Bistro, a visit to the Jura Distillery, dinner at the Jura Hotel…
Too late – but let’s hear a lot more ideas from the innovative Roy Pedersen.