Monday, 15 April 2013

IOS Transport Policy - Going Nowhere

Friends of Isles of Scilly Transport are pressing for exploration of a reduced winter ferry service (funded by a subsidy) to alleviate the transport problem of islanders in the winter.  The DfT is saying that there does not appear to be a problem that the private sector cannot fix and the private sector needs to be given time to do so.  The assumption is that all was well with IOS transport until the helicopter service was withdrawn – well it was not which is why the Route Partnership sought to improve matters.  The Penzance Chamber of Commerce Chairman's perspective is given below.

The critical issue last winter was not the problem with Lands End Airport (vast inconvenience though it caused) but the inability of travellers to leave the IOS for days at a time because there were no flights from St Mary’s to anywhere.  The frequent hire of jet boats was evidence of the desperation of travellers – nobody wants to brave the 40 miles of open sea between Scilly and Penzance in a RIB in winter unless their travel need is truly desperate.  The winter transport issue is not being addressed so the same problem is likely to occur this coming winter.  Proposed improvements to St Mary’s Airport are not going to substantially change this situation whilst making important  improvements elsewhere.  An element of the island community i(typically with medical travel needs) are seriously compromised by this periodic disruption to travel.

The islands are currently a mass tourism destination but this is not sustainable with an air ticket price of £160 return and no guarantee of an affordable ferry service beyond 2018 when the Scillonian will be 41 years old and likely to be at the end of its economic life.   Whilst the high end of the tourism market can be expected to survive relatively unscathed the same cannot be assumed for the majority of serviced accommodation providers.  There has been a lot of discussion about marketing the islands to reverse the downward trend in visitor numbers but the ‘elephant in room’ all along has been the disincentive of high travel costs.  It is an issue that continues to be ignored.

The islanders need a transport policy that supports all members of the community and its economy.  It does not currently appear to have one.  It risks drifting towards a different smaller economy reliant on a smaller number of high end tourists compared to the past.  This will have knock on effects on the community.

It suits the DfT to believe there is no problem to be solved that the private sector has not already got in hand.  The IOSC has been carefully not to disturb this benign view of the situation.  It is a view that is unlikely to be maintained for long. 

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