Ministerial letter: Disappointment at rejection of trial of reduced ferry transport charges for school pupils attending cultural, educational and sporting events
Ferries Community Board - Angus Campbell, Chair
8th December 2020
Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands
Transport charges for school pupils attending cultural, educational and sporting events
It is with great disappointment that The Ferries Community Board have to contact you again regarding our request to address the discrimination against island youngsters travelling to and from cultural, educational and sporting events.
Our original request was made in October 2018 copied to Transport Scotland, the Minister and the Cabinet Secretary. Our ask was a simple one. That school minibuses carrying young people to such events have parity of ferry fares with motorhomes of equivalent size and not, as at present, have to pay a tariff up to 37% more for the same or smaller deck area.
This change is not intended to apply to normal school transport presently paid by Local Authorities but to take the unfair pressure off parents and pupils who often not only have to raise funds to pay for these activities but find themselves sitting on the car deck next to any number of motorhomes paying significantly less. Often the level of these extra costs means many opportunities are lost to our young people because of the lack of capacity from busy parents and pupils to be continually fundraising. These lost opportunities often go unrecorded and unrecognised.
We had reached a position in our tri-partite discussions that an 18-month trial would commence on two routes as of 1st of January 2020. Impact assessments were made showing a worst-case scenario of costs of £5795 based on a small number of 6-8 metre minibuses which are typically used. This assessment did not include any allowances for the additional passengers' farebox revenue compared to a motorhome, extra on board spend or use of empty deck space outside the holiday periods. Even a modest allowance for these would make this cost neutral or indeed give the Operator additional income.
Our proposal should also be judged against the principles of the Islands Act 2018 intended to provide parity of opportunities to island communities and to ensure, even retrospectively, that decisions taken by public bodies do not discriminate against fragile island communities. The decision recently advised to the Board to refuse the implementation of the limited pilot scheme proceed totally stands at odds with the huge efforts being made nationally to deal with the demographic challenges of many of our islands.
In addition, the new consultation to provide free bus travel for under 19's, which we very much support, is a significant financial commitment to more than 770,00 young people across Scotland but in many island situations the ferry is the equivalent of that bus service. Our communities are not asking for that ferry to be free but to be charged at the same rate as already exists for other users. Mr Matheson, in his statement on 26th October announcing the consultation said:
"Free bus travel will help young people under the age of 19 to access education, employment and leisure - particularly those from lower income families. What we are proposing will help our young people as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, whilst supporting the vision outlined in our National Transport Strategy for a fairer and more sustainable transport system - reducing inequalities, tackling poverty and promoting opportunity."
You may recall that in March of this year, pre-COVID, the Ferries Community Board wrote to Mr Matheson and Ms Forbes on the topic of extending the U19s scheme to ferry transport which is outlined in full here. The Board is committed to encouraging Scottish Ministers to include ferry travel in this important and much welcomed initiative for our nation's young people.
Minister, we believe there is still time to make this small change for school minibus charges before the summer timetable begins in March. CalMac have confirmed the change can be accommodated in their ticketing systems and have been fully supportive on these proposals first suggested by the Board as an initiative for the '2018 Year of Young People'.
Our urgent request is for immediate approval to start the trials, in view of the more than two years that have elapsed since our original request and with some degree of obfuscation during that time, and to proceed promptly with a CHFS network-wide scheme with effect from the summer 2021 timetable.
As Minister for the Islands and with your portfolio responsibility for Scotland's ferry services a small positive change can demonstrate practical commitment to our islands' young people and as a Community Board, we would ask you to make that change.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Chair, independent Ferries Community Board.
Cc by email Maree Todd MSP, Minister for Children and Young People, Scottish Government