Better times ahead?
With the election done and dusted, normal lives resume and our ferry services can be looked at afresh with an experienced MP in Andrew Turner re-elected, a stable central Government and the Island’s political community united around the need to improve our transport infrastructure. Of course our ferry services are a vital part of our way ahead.
So we welcome the news from Wightlink today that they are investing in a new ferry which will hopefully come into service in 2017. But it’s not just the new ferry that comes with the Wightlink announcement, some sensible thought appears to have been given to how best to utilise the services, and to speed up loading with a new double deck loading simultaneously like Red Funnel. No doubt the new owners will be looking for some support from the Solent LEP to fund the onshore infrastructure improvements. They will have noted the funding support given to Red Funnel to improve their landside improvements in Southampton and Cowes. It would be the icing on the cake if the new ship could be built in the UK – even Portsmouth but that may be a step too far.
We think that the ferry companies are trying to improve the services they offer and stabilise fares, but that is not enough. There continues to be debate about introducing a fixed link, probably a tunnel and some heavyweight advisers and experts are beginning to look at the possibilities, but this will not happen (if at all) overnight. Meanwhile, the task of improving connectivity with the mainland and making journeys more affordable and accessible continues.
We want to encourage the owners to be full blooded partners in helping the island to reach its full, economic potential and we hope they will rise to the challenge. Certainly we would wish them to participate fully in the work of the new Transport Infrastructure Taskforce which should soon start its work.
But let’s be clear: there really does need to be fundamental change to what’s on offer to Islanders, residents and business alike. Of course tourism is a vital part of the Island’s economy and we understand the skewed profit profile that arises from the seasonality of demand for ferry services. But these are lifeline public transport services and should not ever be exploited for short term profits or capital gain.
There are some vital issues to be addressed here and now:
We need lower fares and greater flexibility.
We need a later passenger service, so that residents can enjoy a night out on the mainland without having to leave London at 9 pm, too early to go to a show. For the same reason we need our businesses to be able to know that they and their customers can reach the island without the stress involved in calculating how to get back in time.
We need some sensible changes to the pricing systems applying to return travel which isn’t on the same day. Why can’t a lower fare apply if you are returning the next day?
We need a better deal for commuters, young people and for the relatives of Island residents.
Wightlink need to sort out the Multilink ticket fiasco by granting booking priority to bulk advance purchases.
Greater attention needs to be paid to seamless journey time – tabling between trains, buses and ferries, not just on the Island.
The BFC believes that it’s wrong for the Island not to own the basic ferry landside facilities on behalf of the Community. We will be asking the Transport Taskforce to look hard at this issue. The Island should be able to regularly tender the ferry operations so that pressure is maintained on the incumbent operators.
Despite our important consumer demands, we want to work with, not against the ferry service providers. We will be inviting each of them to post their views on the BFC site over the coming months and in the meantime, through all our contributions, lets keep the pressure up for improvements.