Wightlink boss has volunteered this response to the recent Letter to the Editor by Harbinger. In his own words. Ed
Wightlink has a long and proud history of serving the Isle of Wight and we are determined to protect this heritage into the future. We recognise that Islanders rely on our services and we must therefore act responsibly to secure the long-term future of our service.
We operate without public subsidy, and despite the fact that we have no mandated public service obligations, we take our responsibilities to the Island seriously.
Thousands of loss-making sailings
That is why we run thousands of loss-making sailings each year, operate through the night on our flagship Portsmouth-Fishbourne route, offer discounts for disabled passengers, give half price fares to Islanders who have to travel to the mainland for medical treatment, support hundreds of charitable causes, spend more than £1m every year promoting the Island as a destination, and have invested more than £50m in the last five years in our ports and ships to improve customers’ experiences.
I believe these are the actions of a company which cares deeply for its customers and is part of Island life.
Difficult choices always have to be made
Of course, everyone wants more services at lower cost, but that is a not a reality in either the public or private sector.
Difficult choices always have to be made in challenging financial circumstances and, faced with steeply rising costs, we have the choice of increasing our fares or matching our services more closely to when the overwhelming majority of our customers are travelling. We know how much Islanders care about price and, as a result we believe it is right to control our costs carefully and protect customers from fare increases as much as possible.
26% ticket price rise compared with 81% RPI
It is worth pointing out that, in 1992, the peak day return price for a car+4 was £32.50. In 2012, twenty years later, that cost was £41 – a 26% rise over two decades. Over the same period RPI has gone up by 81% and in the last three years alone, fuel costs have almost trebled.
Islanders enjoy a significant discount (30%) and this year we held almost all our fare increases at or below inflation.
Clearly it is a matter of public policy whether the cross-Solent route should be publicly owned or subsidised. But, given the significant demands which are already being made on public money, it does not seem likely that subsidising a route which has 138 sailings a day, many of which are already being run at a voluntary loss by their operators, would be a priority.
Ferry services in Scotland are often cited for comparison, however it is rarely commented that these are infrequent (for example the Isle of Bute has just 16 sailings a day, Arran has five and Iona has eight) and that they do not run in the evenings or early mornings.
Determined to improve wherever we can
We know that customers and Islanders feel passionately about our services and we are determined to improve wherever we can.
That is why I am so pleased to be involved with the new Solent Ferry Users Group which I hope will provide an opportunity for more dialogue with our customers.
Russell Kew, Chief Executive, Wightlink