Serco raises fares and cuts off-season sailings on Northern Isles Ferries

Three and a half months into the contract for the Northern Isles Ferry Services that it began delivering on 5th July 2012, Serco Northlink has announced that it is raising the fares and cutting the services on the routes.

It is to raise 2013 fares on the ferries to the Orkney and Shetland Isles by 2.8% – and it is to cut the daily services from Scrabster in Caithness to Stromness in Orkney from three to two sailings a day in the low season.

These changes had been agreed previously with the Scottish Government but the detail has only now been announced.

Serco Northlink’s Managing Director, Stuart Garrett is quoted as saying: ‘The NorthLink routes will now be more efficient, allowing us to invest in improvements while delivering a service that’s affordable to the Scottish government.’

Two return sailings a day to Orkney in the off season seems a reasonable adjustment.

The company has also revised the boundaries of the seasons, in consultation with the island communities.

To the end of 2012, these are:

  • Low Season – January, February, March, November, December (excluding 19 Dec – 8 Jan).
  • Mid Season – April, May, June, September, October, 19 Dec – 8 Jan (to include Christmas & New Year period).
  • Peak Season – July, August

For 2013, they will be:

  • Low Season – 9th January to 23rd March, 1st November to 18th December.
  • Mid Season – 24th March to 14th June, 1st September to 31st October, 19 Dec – 8 Jan (to include Christmas and New Year period).
  • Peak Season – 15th June to 31st August

The impact of this is what Team GB cycling supremo, Dave Brailsford calls ‘marginal gains’ – which add up to substantial ones.

The revision of the dates of the pricing seasons for 2013:

  • shifts the last week in March from Low to Mid season – with adult passenger and car [<6metres] fares rising by 26%  between Low and Mid season
  • shifts two weeks and two days in June from Mid to High season – with adult passenger fares rising by almost 20% and car [<6metres] fares rising 6% between Mid and High season

The reduction to two sailings a day in low season from 2013 will also mean that the company will make a very substantial saving of 33% of its fuel costs and harbour dues for 33% – four months – of the year. Presumably there will also be savings in crewing costs which must have now been agreed with the representative RMT union?

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10 Responses to Serco raises fares and cuts off-season sailings on Northern Isles Ferries

  1. If you took the time to read through the Draft Ferries Review published last December, you would see that one of the proposals for the Pentland Firth service then run by CalMac Northlink was a reduction of the service off-peak, to two crossings a day. Don’t try to blame that one on Serco – it’s likely that CalMac put a similar bid forward themselves. From what I’ve heard, the traffic carried on all three daily sailings could be accommodated on one crossing for much of the year anyway. And although it is designated a “lifeline” service, it’s not as if Stromness — or Scrabster, dependent upon your point of view — is being cut off on any particular day. There are still two other sailings.

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  2. More power to Pentland Ferries elbow!! PF get no subsidies yet their fares are substantially less than Serco/Northlink. £61 as against £80 for a one way crossing for a car + driver and one passenger.

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    • I was talking about needing ID to sail, not to eat! Pentland Ferries do not require you to produce any form of photographic ID for an almost identical sailing. Nor, for that matter, does the former NorthLink sister company CalMac, for any of their sailings. Some of these are more than twice the length of the Northlink Pentland Firth crossing. Why, then, does NorthLink insist on the need for passengers to prove who they are before they can sail to Stromness?

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  3. “And although it is designated a “lifeline” service, it’s not as if Stromness — or Scrabster, dependent upon your point of view — is being cut off on any particular day. There are still two other sailings.”

    Aren’t there at least 5 other sailings to Orkney on any day including Pentland Ferries, and when the Aberdeen boat is in, 6 sailings? I know some folk on Orkney don’t like the inconvenience of driving a few extra miles to Pentland Ferries – poor flowers. Much better the good old taxpayer is there to run the vastly expensive big boats so they don’t have to drive a few extra miles… presumably on their way to Inverness or beyond… (I doubt many take the car across to shop in Thurso..!)

    I know i’ve been across the Pentland Firth out of season several times and without doubt there have been more crew aboard than passengers. Seems to be a very pragmatic answer that even Transport Scotland recognise if Jim’s comments about the ferries review is correct.

    And why the big deal about price rises? Don’t they happen every year – isn’t it just an inflationary linked increase presumably agreed or mandated by government? Didn’t old northlink hike rates by over 6% last year? Given the increased price of fuel, surely they should have gone up by far more than what seems to be proposed.

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