Shetland’s MSP and Scottish Liberal Democrat, Beatrice Wishart has quizzed Humza Yousaf, during First Minister’s questions as to why Shetlanders must put up with the inability to book ferry travel beyond 30th September, because Transport Scotland has not yet approved bookings beyond that date.
This is the third such ‘cliff edge’ date by Transport Scotland in the past 12 months, with bookings previously only open until 31st March and before that, 31st December last year.
Freight rates are also unknown beyond the 30th September creating uncertainty for businesses.
In responses to Ms Wishart’s recent Serco NorthLink ferries survey, Islanders described the impact from the unavailable dates citing impacts on health appointments, holidays and business losses.
Ms Wishart asked the First Minister:
“My constituents can’t book sailings between Shetland and Aberdeen beyond 30th September, because Transport Scotland has not opened up the booking system beyond that date.
“It appears to be a bureaucratic decision that has little to do with meeting the needs of the people who rely on this lifeline service to the Scottish Mainland.
“It’s the third time Islanders have faced a ‘cliff-edge’ for bookings in the past 12 months.
“Results from my survey of over 1,000 responses show 85% of people want to book more than three months in advance and indeed Serco NorthLink frequently tell Islanders to book early.
“I’ve repeatedly been advised that the system will open ‘as soon as possible’ but those are hollow-sounding words for my constituents.
“Does the First Minister agree with me that his Glasgow constituents’ would not put up with such travel restrictions, and can he answer why mine should?”
After the exchange Ms Wishart said:
“The First Minister was unable to give me a firm date as to when the booking dates will open beyond 30th September but I appreciate his indication that he will look into it personally.
“It is disappointing that we have found ourselves in this position for the third time in 12 months. Transport Scotland should not create these ‘cliff edge’ dates, disrupting island life, just for administrative ease.
“The Scottish Government needs to create a new system to ensure we do not have a repeat of this situation in the future. Serco NorthLink ferries operate a lifeline service and a rolling booking system is needed to ensure travellers can book well in advance, just as you can do on trains and planes.”
Notes to Editors
Ms Wishart’s question to the Frist Minister can be seen here.