Letter: Ferry companies must accept they provide vital public transport services

One reader shares his letter to Andrew Turner with OnTheWight readers. The subject: Ferry services

Following Isle of Wight MP, Andrew Turner’s invitation for Islanders to write to him with their concerns over Wightlink ferry services, one reader sent him (and OnTheWight) the following letter. Ed

Dear Mr Turner

May I take the opportunity to thank you for your involvement in this issue and for taking our concerns about Wightlink so seriously.

Unfortunately, most of our local elected representatives and the ruling group on the Isle of Wight don’t seem to have grasped the fact that the ferry services are indeed a lifeline both for individuals who may need to work, require medical treatment, see friends and relatives or go on holiday.

A vital public transport service
Wightink, as part of the Macquarie Group, has not acknowledged that is running a vital public transport service which, with Red Funnel and to a lesser extent the much more customer-responsive Hovertravel, has the benefit of operating purely as a profit-making enterprise with no public service obligation whatsoever. This means that it can reduce or cancel services with no regard to the impact on the economic viability of the island or the impact on its customers.

Wightlink/Macquarie may say that they abide by UK tax laws but by diverting group income to overseas tax havens, emulating many other companies such as Amazon or Starbucks, they are left with no tax to pay here (see their latest published accounts). This of course says far more about our immoral laws than it does about Wightlink who are understandably exploiting our stupidity.

Whims of an international conglomerate
As you already appreciate, the waters of the Solent can be a barrier as well as our ‘road’, and our public transport service in the shape of our ferries is our lifeline. Surely we are entitled to the same free passage of goods, people and services as any other citizens of the United Kingdom?

We should not have to rely on the whims of an international conglomerate which seems incapable of making sound financial decisions and which now appears to rely on Wightlink profits to fund its other poor investments through inflated internal interest rates.

Trading will continue to stagnate
We must fight for our rights to be treated like the rest of the UK otherwise trading will continue to stagnate, more jobs will be lost, inward investment will cease, the tourist trade will continue to decline and house prices will drop as Overners pack their bags and return to the mainland.

Add to all this the increasingly high fares and the progressive removal of the tourist infrastructure by the current ruling group on the Isle of Wight Council and you begin to see the potential scale of the problem.

Public service obligation needed from ferry companies
All of this is why I strongly believe Andrew Lansley is fundamentally wrong in contemptuously dismissing the need for a public service obligation to be placed on the ferry operators when drawing up their service level agreements.

If necessary, financial support should be available to ensure those levels are maintained. I also believe this position should be part of your representations to the ferry companies when discussing these issues.

Must ensure reliable links with rest of UK
The only way to secure a sound and stable future for the Island is to ensure reliable links with the rest of the UK. The alternative would be to declare the Isle of Wight as unsuitable for UK citizens and offer all residents the opportunity to leave the island and offer resettlement terms on the mainland.

To achieve a stable future, the ferry companies must be part of a national integrated seamless transport system which seems so easily achievable in other European countries. Whether that objective is reached through nationalisation, partnerships, consortia or other joint ventures, it doesn’t matter. Doing nothing is not an option.

We can’t condemn people on the Island to isolation
People who comment that because Wightlink is a business it can do as it likes, including the right to close or cut services, are totally ignoring the dangers of relying on a totally commercial enterprise. It’s precisely this precarious position, which if Red Funnel were to hit similar problems, that could lead to the Island receiving no visitors or goods and thus condemning people on the island to isolation.

The railway operators have a public service obligation and subsidy, yet still provide a (generally) reliable service. The Solent is our road or rail network, and is used as such by the ferry operators.

Expectation of acceptable levels of service
Wightlink has purchased a public transport service and any reasonable person would expect it to be able to maintain that service to ‘acceptable’ levels.

It is for this reason that some form of subsidy, based on an obligation to provide a service, may bring a level of stability which would enable the ferry companies to operate some of the less profitable sailings by using some of the revenue from its highly profitable summer and holiday operations.

The cost may not be as high as we might expect.

Image: Karen O’D under CC BY 2.0

Saturday, 2nd February, 2013 4:37pm


ShortURL: http://wig.ht/2atE

Filed under: Letter to the Editor

Any views or opinions presented in the comments below are solely those of the author and do not represent those of OnTheWight.

Leave a Reply

23 Comments on "Letter: Ferry companies must accept they provide vital public transport services"

Email updates?
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
I have a question for the ventnor blog and for its readers the Falklands is a smaller island than the Isle of Wight so how comes they get more central funding than us per head. The Leader of the Goverment promised to protect the rights of the Falklands and the right to be independent. Perhaps we should be kicking up a stink. WIGHTLINK is one of the… Read more »

Because it is the gateway to lots of oil and mineral reserves!


Which fuel ferries, and food supplies.


@Steve Gibbs
Just to set the record straight.The Falkland Islands are about 12,173 sq.kilometers and the Isle of Wight is about 380 sq.kilometers.


But more importantly the population of the Falklands is about 3000 while that of the Isle of Wight is about 150000, 50 times as many.

Perhaps we should set up an independence referendum and declare ourselves a separate sovereign state, establish low taxation rates and nationalize the ferry services. Then we could set ourselves up as a tax haven for all the companies that don’t want to pay UK Corporation Tax. If Jersey and Man can do it, why not us? Then we wouldn’t need to go over the Solent to find… Read more »
Quite. And the idea of working at home on a computer, a long distance from users of one’s products or services, rather falls down if there is this clamping down of travel options. People here will instead come to feel they need to live on the mainland so as to maintain the geographical & colleague face-to-face links that remain necessary with homeworking. So much for encouraging innovation… Read more »
Mark L Francis
Damn right. I have been looking at garden benches and most have free delivery to UK mainland only. Some simply will not dis[astch to the IOW at all. Greenfingers.com had a list of extra charges of which the IOW was the highest even compared with the Channel Islands and Shetland. One assumes this is down to ferry prices. The old ferries were also designed for use as… Read more »

What is the definition of a lifeline ferry service? And which other UK offshore communities are served by ferry companies subject to a public service obligation?


Some perspective.


A retailer has airlifted supplies of food to Shetland because the usual ferries and freight boats have been disrupted by the weather.

@Darcy: Are you seeking a legislative definition…? Or a definition generally understood by most observers…? I think most people understand that an (this) Island life is ONLY supportable by the existence of travel capabilities to and from that Island. In most cases that means by Air or by Boat. The level of development and the population numbers probably indicate that Air connections (read Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney etc..)… Read more »
Agree with nearly all you said and given you an up arrow for your trouble! I have said here before, as has Harbinger, that without the ferries, human life would struggle to exist as we know it on the island and for that reason a PSO is an essential safeguard. No I was more interested in the legislative definition as I was wondering whether islanders had a… Read more »
Biker Bill


Fuel comes over by a barge not the ferries, thats is why we were not inconvenienced by the tanker strikes. So fear not it will not run out if the ferries pull out!


Food and medical deliveries?

Richard Smith
Folks, the Scots solved a few overpriced communication problems in getting to the Western Isles with the ‘Road Equivalent Tariff’. In some cases, not all, ferry prices came down by 50%, bliss. Maybe there is some scope to examine this system and see whether there are circumstances in common to us here on the island? It is worth bearing in mind that in the initial awarding of… Read more »
Richard Smith makes a good point. I’ve looked up ‘road equivalent tariff’ (as I didn’t know what it was) and copied the website in below. http://www.transportscotland.gov.uk/water/ferries Extract: “Ferries are an essential part of Scotland’s transport network…They perform several roles: Support business and employment opportunities in pursuit of a wealthier and fairer Scotland Encourage sustainability of communities including tourism Provide access to schools and healthcare for our remote… Read more »
Here you go Mr Turner. Put this to your bunch of cronies at Westminster – proof that IW residents require a subsidised service to promote employment, encourage industry such as tourism, help local communities and an overall degree of fairness. It’s all there in black and white from your Scottish counterparts. Maybe it’s time to stop and think for a moment and stop bashing the Ferry companies… Read more »
Well, well, well

This Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) idea is interesting.

Taking the AA’s Motoring Costs as a price per mile gauge, give an interesting range of prices.

Being generous to Wightlink and taking their meandering ferry route Fishbourne to Portsmouth, gives a distance of 7.4 miles http://goo.gl/maps/0kDUk

At the most expensive level (£42k+ value car, doing £14k, 30k miles year) it would work out at £2.25.

Richard Smith
When the tiny and often retired Hebridean populations of Tiree, Coll and Colonsay, to use 3 examples, and there are more islands involved…are considered, surely some consideration could be given to RET for the island and its much much larger and economically active population? We probably expect 2nd homers and visitors to pay a reasonable fare, but for essential freight and islanders commuting it shouldn’t be beyond… Read more »
Davy Jones
Well we have Cllr Pugh to thank for the failure of Turner’s bid to get the OFT to come to our aid. Because of Pugh’s hatred of Turner he refused to back it. One of the businessmen who worked with Turner on the project told me that without the support of the local Transport Authority (who are IWC) it was bound to fail. Pugh’s recent call not… Read more »

Another more legally acceptable calculation would be to use HMRC’s figures for running a vehicle. If my memory is correct currently set at 45p/mile.

Therefore 7.4 miles at 45p/mile = £3.33 My edition of google maps suggests a distance of 6.9miles = £3.11
and Lymington – Yarmouth also from Google maps is 4.8miles @ 0.45p/mile = £2.16.
What a difference when compared with present ferry charges.

Richard Smith
Even if we take the July, August and September school holiday period out of the equation, for 9 months of the year this RET system might make good sense. Somebody grind the numbers – the volumes of traffic movement might be enormous? Night time sailings could be particularly attractive as a hugely discounted option – those who rarely leave the island may not mind a cheap sailing… Read more »

Buy, own and run, a community owned ferry.