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Road Equivalent Tariff
The Road Equivalent Tariff pilot operating on all ferry routes to the Western Isles has attracted 23 per cent more cars and 14 per cent more passengers compared with the same period in 2007-08.
Increases in carryings on the RET supported routes:
- Oban-Castlebay/Lochboisedale: cars up 26 per cent and passengers up 19 per cent
- Uig-Tarbert/Lochmaddy: cars up 25 per cent and passengers up 16 per cent
- Ullapool-Stornoway: cars up 24 per cent and passengers up 13 per cent
- Oban-Coll/Tiree: cars up 13 per cent and passengers up 8 per cent
First Minister Alex Salmond, travelling on the Uig to Tarbert ferry ahead of the Scottish Cabinet meeting in Stornoway tomorrow, said:
"The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring all remote and fragile communities have direct links to the greater Scottish economy.
"We launched the Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) pilot to consider the most effective and sustainable way to improve the affordability of service of ferries to our islands. Since the launch of the pilot last year, we have seen a significant increase in the number of visitors, family and friends and businesses visiting the Western Isles.
The Clyde and Hebridean network generally has seen an increase in carryings over the past nine months, however, the largest increases are on the RET routes.
"This has been crucial in times of unprecedented economic downturn and a very welcome boost to the travel of tourists in our year of Homecoming.
"These positive, early signs, particularly the economic benefits, will continue to be closely monitored through our study of the pilot so we can fully evaluate the impacts of RET. We have had substantive feedback already and we are particularly keen to hear more from the business community on what impact RET has had on their organisations. A survey will be available on the Scottish Government website from today and I would urge all business people to take the time and let us know their thoughts on RET.
"I can give all Scottish islanders the assurance that we remain absolutely committed to ensuring the necessary transport links at affordable prices. This will enable greater connections, socially, culturally and economically with mainland Scotland."
Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE) is responsible for working with public partners in encouraging areas participating in the pilot to maximise benefits in the local economy.
Margaret McSporran, senior development manager with HIE, said:
"RET opens up a range of opportunities to strengthen our communities and businesses. Our partnership's role is to encourage businesses and community groups to grasp these opportunities from cheaper ferry fares. We want to get as full an assessment as possible on the social and economic impacts it brings, as this will inform Government's future decision making on roll out of RET in the pilot and other areas. It is vital that local business people participate and complete the survey to contribute to the Scottish Government assessment."
Clachan Stores, at Leverburgh on Harris, has been trading as a social enterprise for 30 years. They are seeing weekly sales at their shop and tea room increase by up to 25 per cent compared to last year.
Bill Lawson, chairman of Co Chomunn na Hearadh, said:
"We are certainly seeing more visitors, and particularly camper vans, which has had a significant effect on sales in our shop. If local businesses can meet the needs of the increased number of visitors and provide the quality they are looking for there is no doubt we can take advantage of RET."
Andrew Morrison, manager of Harris Hotel in Tarbert, said:
"Harris is traditionally a busy island for tourists but we are finding that the number of visitors are increasing year on year. With the introduction of the Road Equivalent Tariff we are experiencing a bumper year so far, especially in July, although our best month is usually August so we are yet to see how this will go. One benefit we are hoping for from RET is an extended season past mid October. It is now much easier for people to jump on the ferry and visit Harris from the mainland or Skye with RET and from speaking to other local businesses we are all feeling the benefit of increased traffic."
Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) involves setting ferry fares on the basis of the cost of travelling an equivalent distance by road. High ferry fares have been seen by many as a barrier to economic growth on the islands. Lowering the fares to a level analogous to mainland traffic costs will act as a boost to island economies by reducing freight costs to local businesses, lowering the cost of living for island residents and making the islands more attractive to tourists.
The pilot commenced on October 19, 2008 and will run until spring 2011. This will allow it to be fully assessed on its effectiveness, and to identify both positive and any possible negative implications of a RET scheme.