You probably remember the Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) trial which is currently in place in the Western Isles and some other islands in Scotland, but unfortunately not on Islay, Colonsay, Mull and Gigha. It was in March 2008 when I published the RET Full story on the blog. A wee reminder... Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) is a system where the fares of a ferry crossing are more or less equivalent to travelling the same distance over land, which means on average 40 to 70% lower fares for lorries, passengers and cars. Great isn't it? It makes ferry travels a lot cheaper and who wouldn't want that?
It comes as no surprise that the ferry routes where RET is implemented see a lot more visitors than usual. But there is a downside already as well. If you are a regular reader of my blog you might remember the post I wrote in September 2009: "Another side effect of the RET trial is a fall in passengers on the ferry routes that don't participate in this scheme. On the Islay Oban ferry route as a whole the number of passengers was down by 14% and cars by 11%." The RET trial is in my opinion unfair competition towards the other islands that don't participate in the scheme. But since it was a trial it was agreed upon that it would last no longer than one or two years to see if it would become a success. Well it is, it is a huge success. I read somewhere that some parts of the islands in the Outer Hebrides were reduced to motorhome parkings because of the increase in tourism. What would be logical now is that the trial period would end. That way decision makers, read the Scottish government, could make up their minds and implement RET all over the ferry network or not implement it at all. Continue reading.....
The Scottish Government however is making strange decisions when it comes to RET. Instead of stopping the trial or having a trial on other islands such as Islay the current trial will be extended for another year. The Hebrides Today wrote last week: "The decision to extend the RET subsidy in the Western Isles has come under criticism from various political corners, however this week Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson went on the record to defend the decision, which will cost the Government Â£6.5million. He said it was an investment to support the Western Islesâ€™ struggling economy." Correct me if I'm wrong but is the Scottish Government handing out tourism subsidies by lowering ferry rates to help struggling island economies? And what about the other islands? Don't they need the lower RET fares as well to support their fragile economies? But things are getting even more strange. The Government has to cough up Â£6.5million to extend the RET trials while on the other hand the local goverment, read the council in the Outer Hebrides, wants to cut flights to save money. Yes indeed, these are strange times.
From the local Islay political front it was Councillor Robin Currie who expressed his "anger" of the government decision to extend RET for another year according to an article in the Ileach: "The Scottish Government has announced that its pilot scheme for cheap fares to the Western Isles will continue for an extra year but will still exclude islands like Islay, Colonsay, Mull and Gigha. Local councillor Robin Currie told the Ileach: â€œThe Road Equivalent Tariff scheme, which gives a discount of 50% on ferry journeys and has cost Â£22m, has been running in the Western Isles and Tiree and Coll for the last two years and was due to end next April. â€œProviding an extension of another year till spring 2012 will incur additional costs of Â£6.5m.â€ Cllr Currie, who said he was â€œangryâ€ over the decision, continued, â€œThis is absolutely scandalous. Why should people travelling to and from the Western Isles get up to 50% off when we have to pay the full fare. The scheme should operate throughout the Scottish Islands. I have been in touch with my colleagues on the Council and a meeting will be held to discuss the way forward.â€
The result of all this is that it will probably take at least two more years before RET will be implemented throughout the Scottish Islands. This means that the current Islay ferry tariff will stay the same unless Councillor Currie can force a breakthrough together with his colleagues on the Council. Fingers crossed!