Ferries are critical to Island life and here's what needs to be done
Thank you to the Wightlink User Group for sharing their concerns about affordable, reliable and regular services. I will do my very best now to respond.
First, let me start by saying that I want to work with everyone on the Island.
As an Islander who regularly uses all three services, it frustrates me greatly that our powers are limited and none of the Solent operators have a public service obligation.
I welcome the group’s research into Wightlink’s corporate structure.
I produced this work myself back in 2018 when I set out my concerns about Wightlink’s tax status and off-shore company structure.
The County Press covered the story in an article entitled, Why hasn't Wightlink paid any corporation tax? Isle of Wight MP quizzes ferry company (December 2018).
On the subject of regulation. I have asked the Government to oversee ferry timetables; regulate the level of debt of ferry operators; and adequately compensate those delayed by late ferries.
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On the subject of Minimum Service Levels. On February 21, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport to request Solent ferry services be considered in the Government’s Transport Strikes Bill.
On the subject of a third car ferry operator, I support this, have encouraged the team looking at it, and have pledged to help get investment funds should the project begin to get off the ground.
On reliable and regular services, there will be improvements in Wightlink’s timetable this year. Over the course of last year, I have been encouraging Wightlink to improve their passenger services by running more night services and ensuring train/ferry connectivity.
This was spurred by Islanders writing to me, including NHS trainees, who were having difficulty getting home at night.
The result, in the West Wight, is that there will be timetable changes from both SWR and Wightlink, starting March 27, to ensure trains line up with ferry services between Yarmouth and Lymington.
In the east, between Ryde and Portsmouth, later FastCat services will be reinstated this month with other improvements to services.
On this, the petition organised by Island campaigner Harriet Hadfield was much appreciated.
I will continue to press Wightlink to ensure later FastCat services are reinstated permanently, winter and summer.
Whilst Wightlink argue that poor usage of later services makes them unviable, I remind them they need to consider their role as providers of lifeline services.
In addition, work on Island Line will conclude in late Spring when the Ryde Railway Pier work finishes.
Working with Government, we secured £50 million investment in Island Line and Ryde Railway Pier.
The Council also successfully pitched for the £10m Ryde Transport Interchange project. This will result in significant improvements for Islanders travelling between Portsmouth, Ryde and along Island line to the Bay.
On affordability, after pressure from myself and the previous Conservative council, the Isle of Wight Council, Wightlink, Red Funnel and Hovertravel jointly developed a Discounted Fares Scheme in Sept 2018 to support Islanders on low incomes.
Those receiving housing benefit or council tax support are eligible to claim for fixed price, discounted mainland travel costs.
Personally, I would like to see a system such as that practised in the Spanish islands where journeys from the Island to the mainland are a third cheaper. I will continue to encourage the ferry firms to look at this option.
The service I am most concerned about at the moment is the Red Funnel Red Jet between Cowes and Southampton.
The staggered timetable is bad for Islanders and in my opinion not acceptable. I have made my opinions clear to Red Funnel.
Going forward, I would welcome input to this debate from the council and the Isle of Wight Transport Infrastructure Board.
The council, as the Island’s legal transport authority, have no power over the ferries and have never asked for them.
One possible course of action would be to seek powers over agreement of timetables, so that the Island’s elected authority would be able to demand minimum services.
I have told the Government that when the next change in transport law comes through Parliament, I will argue for this anyway. However, it would be great to have a common position with the council.
The Island’s Transport Infrastructure Board, which brings together transport operators, is currently examining its schedule of work.
If anyone from the Wightlink User Group, or any readers of the County Press, would like to make suggestions, I will happily forward them.
In the meantime, I look forward to meeting with the Wightlink User Group in the near future.
I welcome Islanders writing to me on this issue. The best way to contact me is by email at email@example.com
The ferries are critical to Island life. I will continue to do my best to ensure they listen to the needs of Islanders and we get a better deal from them.