Green candidate meets and compares the ferry companies

Isle of Wight Green Party prospective parliamentary candidatefor the 2015 elections Vix Lowthion has now met with the two major ferry companies, Red Funnel and Wightlink and shares her impression with readers.

Vix Lowthion

This in from Vix Lowthion, in her own words. Ed


Yesterday (Monday) I met with Red Funnel CEO Kevin George, and Marketing and Communications Director Jonathan Green. This follows from a meeting with Wightlink CEO Russell Kew, and their Operations Director John Burrows, back in February.

All Parliamentary Candidates were invited to get together with the ferry companies, as it is in everyone’s future interests to listen and learn from each other.

On the Isle of Wight, we are in the difficult situation of living on an Island, only a handful of miles from the coast, and having to use a ferry service which is fully privatised and without regulation or subsidy.

Rising prices, reduced services
Particularly in the last few years, we have seen a rise in ticket prices and a fall in frequency of sailings. The OFT concluded in 2009 that there is no monopoly – because there are three companies serving islanders (including Hovertravel).

This leaves Island residents and businesses at the whim of the two car ferry firms, who run their operations for profits for their owners and shareholders (currently Balfour Beatty Infrastructure Partnership, and Prudential). It is this lack of public accountability, particularly when faced with variable and unpredictable and rising ticket costs, which can leave Islanders feeling unsupported and isolated.

So – what have I learnt?

  • I have learnt that both ferry companies have a vested interest in the growth of the Isle of Wight economy. It is through the Island’s growth and recovery that they can grow their own share of the market. Wightlink even have the UK GDP charted alongside the growth in vehicle numbers for their ferries – and it is true that there is a distinct correlation between the two.
  • Both ferry companies wanted to know my thoughts about a Fixed Link – and both were at pains to explain to me why it wouldn’t work, or would not work within the next 20 years.
  • Red Funnel and Wightlink explained how they do a lot of work for charity, supporting Island workers, sponsoring Island events and organisations and working to promote the Island. Regarding residents, Red Funnel reiterated their quarterly discount vouchers delivered to every door, whilst Wightlink emphasised their ‘multi-link tickets’ scheme.
  • I pressed Wightlink about the scarcity of places for ‘multi-link’ holders – and they stated that Islanders need to book car spaces well in advance. I pressed them further about growing their resident market (they said it was around 30%) and they answered that they had offered 20% discounts for Islanders a few years back on the Y-L route and the uptake had been low. They believe that islanders just don’t travel so much.
  • Investment in refurbishment and new ferries is an undergoing program. Red Funnel are about to release the new look Osprey, and Wightlink would hope they could replace part of their ageing fleet (as current ones are over 30yrs old). Both companies say they are concerned with safety, and improving customer experience.
  • Wightlink were particularly interested in the Green Party policy of renationalisation of rail (and thus looking at ferries). They had done their homework on me. They were insistent that it couldn’t work. Red Funnel representatives did not instigate a conversation on this – but I did bring up the possibility of regulation and/or subsidies with them.

Business as usual
In short, Red Funnel and Wightlink have ‘business as usual’ plans to supply the Isle of Wight with a ferry service largely on the lines of today’s service. They would both like to increase the number of sailings and vehicles carried – and to do that, they need the Isle of Wight economy to grow and develop.

Wightlink were interested in planning applications and possible new tourist destinations in the future. Red Funnel talked about supporting Island industry and manufacturing. I expressed my reservations about the Solent Gateway redevelopment of East Cowes, and the move from a town based on industry, to a ‘gentrification’ and a town based on luxury flats. I am concerned that the loss of industrial units attached to the deep water could affect the growth of manufacturing on the Island, and Red Funnel acknowledged my concern.

Public accountability vital
As short initial meetings go, I felt the time was well spent by both parties in laying the groundwork for future discussions. However, we cannot continue as residents to be left exposed when the companies up their prices, drop sailings and change rules (are you a long car or a small van?).

It is this lack of public accountability which leaves residents feeling vulnerable. How do we get a service which is run for public need? A passenger service after 11pm from Portsmouth in an evening? A reasonably priced ‘turn up at the gate’ ticket? An acknowledgment of responsibility when another ferry is cancelled due to ‘lack of staff’?

Explore subsidies and nationalisation
As the MP, I would fight hard for more accountability to the public, and explore all possible avenues to achieve this – including subsidies and regulation and nationalisation.

I believe that the recent drive towards investigating a fixed link is largely due to a failure of our ferries to be responsive to all resident needs – families, workers and business owners.

It’s great to hear about how much Red Funnel and Wightlink put into growing our economy – all the positive changes and charity work. But the fact remains that those of us who live here need to be able to access the service when we need it – and that means timetables, and that means affordable prices.

Wightlink bosses described me as ‘pragmatic’. I’ll take that as a compliment.

Image: © With kind permission of Lucy Boynton

Tuesday, 17th March, 2015 8:20am

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Filed under: Election, Ferry, Island-wide, Isle of Wight News, Politics, Top story, Travel

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26 Comments on "Green candidate meets and compares the ferry companies"

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Dalek

Well done Vix, a practical approach. Just one question, what does this mean? “Investment in refurbishment and new ferries is an undergoing program.”

Vix Lowthion
It’s ongoing because needs change. Red Funnel see that to improve customer service, passengers need to be able to get a seat. Wightlink have an ageing fleet – some of which were around 30 yrs ago when part of Sealink. The crucial point is that new ferries or refurbishment needs to be sustainable. If a ferry is going to last for 30 yrs – until 2045 –… Read more »
Cynic
Vix “Therefore a ferry built 10 yrs ago will need to be updated. Investment in our ferries is vital.” However, the owners of WL and RF have enjoyed multiple years of profits partly funded by corporate tax relief on the depreciation of the existing ferries. Sensible companies ring-fence depreciation taken each year to spend on replacing the asset rather than spending it in the interim. How much… Read more »
ThomasC
“Both ferry companies wanted to know my thoughts about a Fixed Link – and both were at pains to explain to me why it wouldn’t work, or would not work within the next 20 years.” Turkeys still noticeably not interested in voting for Christmas. What were their reasons a fixed link wouldn’t work? Why did they think ferries would work better? “Red Funnel and Wightlink explained how… Read more »
76offset
Spot on Vix, A most coherent account which takes into account many of the anomolies in the present set up and peoples’ misgivings. Plenty of deals,packages and offers for visitors but little consideration for residents. I wonder if the Wightlink 20% discount was a) openly promoted or b)tied up with inconvenient conditions, which is often the case. After all said & done why not a domicile status… Read more »
Cynic
Well done Vix, although the ferry companies tried to do their usual “snow job” on reality. e.g. “Wightlink even have the UK GDP charted alongside the growth in vehicle numbers for their ferries – and it is true that there is a distinct correlation between the two.” Lies, damn lies and statistics? Did they show you a correlation between the ISLAND’s GDP and the price of ferry… Read more »
Cynic

“Ferry tickets” not “ferret tickets” :-))

tiki

Shame it took an election to get her interested.

Cynic

Cheap shot tiki! The ferry companies would not be interested in talking to anybody who was not a PPC!

mat
It has taken the Green candidate, Vix Lowthian, to be the first politician on the island to comprehensively tackle the issue of the ferries on the island. This is a key issue for islanders and Stephens, Turner and Blackmore have not been able to deal with it in any coherent fashion so far.They still have time but it shows what can be done. Vix Lowthion has now… Read more »
ThomasC
How will you get that public accountability from private, unsubsidised ferry companies who are responsible only to their corporate shareholders? Vix has done nothing here, except go in for a coffee and a cuddle from both the major ferry operators. With every word printed about her meetings with ferry companies, rather than looking at the genuine alternatives for a fixed link she appears more in thrall to… Read more »
Stewart Blackmore
Mat, you are wrong. I have met with both ferry companies and I expect that most of the other candidates have done too. Indeed, OTW has already carried a report about my meeting with Wightlink. I will be addressing what I took from those meetings during the course of the campaign and during the hustings events. Both meetings were very informative and I came away from both… Read more »
ebod

A deeper insight into the monolopy than the current MP has managed to provide during his entire tenure, well done!

“They believe that islanders just don’t travel so much.” Clearly nothing to do with the price to travel being so effing expensive.

The fixed link appears to have them quaking in the boots they’ve got too big for, it must be a good idea then :)

GeekPetite
The fact remains that whilst Vix can ask for public concerns to be taken in to account, a PRIVATE business can run things however they want. They are responsible to their shareholders only, and as shares are an investment their interest lies with their dividend. One of the reasons Wightlink has stated for price increases is the compliance with lower emission fuels needed. So in order to… Read more »
Vix Lowthion
Absolutely. They operate as they do, because in the 1980s our MP and council and government allowed the ferry service to be privatised without regulation. Businesses operate as the law allows. It is not ‘asking nicely’ which will always succeed. If we want real and lasting change, we need to use means which business will listen to. Red Funnel were already compliant with the Jan 2015 low… Read more »
Sally Forrest
Yes, but you didn’t really answer my question there did you? I’m not suggesting that lower emission fuels are a bad idea, far from it. I’m asking if you support the rising of ticket prices? How do you propose to persuade them to stabilise ticket prices, when you have no authority to do so? At the end of the day, as long as their shareholders are happy… Read more »
Sally Forrest

Or was the absolutely that you support price increases?

phil jordan

vix lowthion:

Just for clarity. Can you explain what part the IOW Council (Liberal at the time)played in the privatisation of the ferries?

You also may like to research the position of our then MP, Stephen Ross, over the matter in “allowing the service to be privatised without regulation”.

The government of that day was a whole different matter of course….

Vix Lowthion

Did they try and stop it? Campaign for regulations? Subsidies? Genuinely interested.

We can only deal with what we have – you know that with Island Roads. Would be a lot better for islanders if we had not been left relying on purely privately owned transport across the Solent for the last 30yrs. But neither is it a solution to look back. We must look forward.

phil jordan
vix: Then a little research is needed on your part, I feel. You did state that the Council and MP …”allowed the ferry service to be privatised without regulation”. Can you explain what part of the process that took place involved the local Council….? The process certainly *involved* the MP at the time…. he was against the privatisation and spoke on it many times. He was a… Read more »
Vix Lowthion
‘Allow’ – it happened. It wasn’t stopped. Attempts may well have been made. Speeches given. But they were not successful in us having regulated ferries across the Solent, no. It went through. Current council are ‘allowing’ our toilets to be closed,libraries to have funding removed, bus routes to be lost – our local services to be decimated. Some would say you are choosing to do those things.… Read more »
phil jordan
vix lowthion: you are playing pedantics and it is noted. We, as an authority, cannot stop, prevent or undertake ANY action that will change the government set formula, or level, for the revenue support grant. [This Council could not have prevented or impacted the government in selling off the ferry company in July 1983 for about £55M in equally the same way we cannot prevent or impact… Read more »
Don Smith

Very nice photograph Vix – But please concentrate on knocking on doors. Only a very small percentage of the
electorate browse this forum.

milly
You are wrong, Phil selling the ferry company could have been prevented. The Staff running could have been kept. The timetables would still be there and so would low prices. It could have been invested in then as money wasn’t as tight as today. All that would change is that today you would be thinking of outsourcing it like you are today. The only thing that Councils… Read more »
phil jordan
milly: This is just not realistic. The agenda of the day was privatisation (called de-nationalisation by the conservatives at the time)and it was driven through at all costs. Go and check out the Ridley Report of the time. Look at British Aerospace, Jaguar, British Telecom, Britoil, BRitish Gas and Cable and Wireless. (perhaps some reference to the Hayekian ideas might also illuminate the doctrine adopted at the… Read more »
Cynic

….How about UDI for the IoW using the UN self-determination (UN Charter Ch.1 Art.1 Part 2) similar to that of Gibraltar and the Falklands? :-))