Earlier today (Friday) members of a Facebook Group called ‘Restrictions on Isle Of Wight ferries’ sent emails to the leader of the Isle of Wight council, Dave Stewart, voicing their concerns over a possible influx of second-home owners and holidaymakers for the bank holiday weekend.
Some within the Group had tried to book ferry crossings from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight for today, but found the 1pm, 3pm and 5pm crossings were fully booked. This understandably led to concerns that people weren’t heeding the council leader’s message to ‘stay away’.
Investigating further to find out what was going on, News OnTheWight has discovered something that sheds some light.
An example given is that their flagship ferry, Victoria of Wight, usually has a capacity for 1,170 passengers per crossing.
Since the lockdown this has been reduced to 100, with typically there being only around 20 passengers per crossing. Most of Wightlink’s foot passengers have switched to using the Hovercraft and other passengers are required to remain in their vehicles for the duration of the crossing.
Distancing and freight
Wightlink say it’s important to factor in that vehicles comes in all shapes and sizes and although there may be capacity for say 100 vehicles, once the spacing out of those vehicles is implemented, it could take the capacity down to 50 vehicles.
In addition, freight lorries obviously take up the space of several cars and so before long, a crossing could be fully booked, but well before reaching the new reduced capacity level.
Capacity is “much-reduced”
A spokesperson said,
“We are currently only operating on one route between Fishbourne and Portsmouth and with a reduced number of sailings. We are also rotating our vessels to allow for maintenance and to retain crew familiarity with our different vessels.
“Our capacity therefore varies according to which vessels we are using, but it is at a much-reduced level than before Covid-19.”
Uplift in traffic from freight, business travel and commuters
Asked whether they have seen an uplift in bookings, they went on to say,
“We are seeing a small increase in traffic which is in line with the recent changes to Government advice on travel, but this increase is small and volumes are a fraction of what we would expect at this time of year.
“This is also mostly confined to week-day traffic and to freight vehicles, business travel and commuters.”
Stewart: Normal influx has not happened
Leader of the Isle of Wight council, Dave Stewart, told News OnTheWight he was disappointed that some people are seeking to undermine the ‘stay away’ message.
“In the main I am pleased to see that the normal level of people coming to the Island for Bank Holiday has not happened. This is due to a range of reasons not least of which has been the voluntary compliance of would be visitors and second home owners.
“I am also pleased that our ferry companies have supported this course of action albeit this will be having a significant impact on their business income.
“So although my message has been followed in the main I remain disappointed that some people are seeking to undermine the position potentially putting themselves and Island residents at greater risk than needs to be the case – and I will be emphasising this in the coming days.”
Stewart: People should remain in main residence
The leader went on to explain the Isle of Wight council was in regular liaison with the ferry companies and the Police, who are all working together to address this aspect of keeping the Island safe.
He went on to add,
“We have raised this aspect with Government and our Isle of Wight MP, Bob Seely, who also appreciates the local concerns.
“Government have made it clear at present people should not alternate between houses but remain in their main residence. They can however exercise as much as they want and have day trips in order to do so.
“Needless to say there are some who choose to ignore Government Guidelines or push the position to the limits.”
Stewart: Not there yet
Cllr Stewart concluded by saying,
“We do not have powers as a local authority to prevent people coming to the Island and neither do the ferry companies. Nevertheless concerns have been raised at different levels.
“I do foresee that in the coming weeks second home owners and visitors will be able to travel to the Island – so we need to prepare for this development – but in my view the time is not yet reached.”
No power to stop non-essential journeys
Ferry companies do not have the jurisdiction to to ask passengers why they are travelling and stop them travelling if they are not on an essential journey.
Wightlink say they will be repeating the message in their communications that people should only travel in accordance with Government guidance.
Video footage of vehicles alighting from the 1pm ferry today show mostly freight, along with most cars only having one passenger – indicating commuters or business travel.