ISLANDERS have blasted the "absolutely unacceptable" cost of lorries delivering vital supplies having to pay nearly five times more than a holidaymaker in a similar sized vehicle to take a ferry.

It comes as calls are made to stop a hike in Scottish ferry prices by up to 3.5% at the end of this month as the nation tries to recover from the coronavirus crisis.

One ferry user group has hit out at the costs of commercial vehicles delivering to the islands while tourists are "subsidised" by the taxpayer.

According to the winter timetable, an eight metre long private vehicle and driver like a motorhome on the Craignure-Oban route can cross to Mull for a single fare of £24.35 single, whilst a commercial vehicle ticket costs £113.28.

Transport Scotland has approved the rise of CalMac fares having waived a rise in the summer of last year.

The Scottish Government transport agency said it has compounded two years of fare rises, This means there will be an increase of 2.5% on passenger and commercial vehicle fares and 3.5% on car fares on from March 26, 2021. It is the first increase since March 2019.

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David MacBrayne Ltd, which operates CalMac Ferries, received a £144.2m subsidy from the Scottish Government in 2020 – up over £5m from 2019.

The Mull and Iona Ferry Committee has said the latest fare hikes ignites fresh concern over fare disparity and the need for a commercial fares review.

The committee said there was a "perverse situation" where a truck carrying essential supplies to the islands pays far more than the same size of private vehicle.

Joe Reade, the committee chairman said: "There has been promise of a commercial fares review, but it has never materialised. To use the example of the Craignure-Oban route, this is not only illogical and unfair, but it has a very perverse effect on travel to the islands.

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"It effectively means that taxpayer money is being used to heavily subsidise the visit of holidaymakers who will arguably contribute relatively little to the islands economy, but a truck delivering food to island shops or taking away island produce is not.

"So to have the fare disparity further increased is absolutely unacceptable, and will only result in suppressing island businesses and maintaining inflated island cost of living."

Road equivalent tariffs were introduced to the CalMac network between 2012 and 2015, as previous fares were inconsistent and generally very high, particularly on shorter routes like.

RET in principle sets a fare based on what the travel cost would be if the same length of journey were made in a car.

It was introduced as a pilot on a number of west coast ferry routes in 2008. It was rolled out on all Clyde and Hebrides routes by October 2015, with fares on routes to Shetland reduced in 2018.

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It is a principle that has long been deployed in Norway, where the ferry network is regarded as an extension of the road system.

The aim is to remove the cost penalty of island life.

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But the ferry committee said that in reality the fares remain higher than a ‘true’ RET system would calculate.

In 2019, it was calculated that on the Oban-Craignure route a car and four passengers which would have cost £106.08 return, was cut to £55.60 under RET.

But the anomaly is that it does not apply to commercial vehicles.

It is speculated that to address the anomaly would require an increase in subsidy to CalMac without savings or fare increases elsewhere.

The ferry committee believe that if applied network-wide it might have the "politically-unpalatable effect" of increasing fares to the Outer Isles.

But the ferry committee believe the differential is a "significant injustice, a barrier to economic development and contributes to increased costs on the islands for everyone who lives here"

The Western Isles Council is asking islands minister Paul Wheelhouse to stop the double year ferry fare increase.

The council said it considered it "wholly unacceptable for ministers and Calmac to introduce above inflation fare charge increases before normal service is resumed and when timetables were kept at winter levels all through 2020".

The council's transportation and infrastructure chairman Uisdean Robertson said:“The Highlands and Islands have been hardest hit regions economically in Scotland as a result of the pandemic and nowhere have its effects been more felt than the Western Isles.

"Last year I wrote to the Islands Minister urging that Government act to reduce freight fares to our islands and setting out a range of measures that could be brought in to achieve this. Before the damage is done I hope the minister can intervene now and stop this double whammy of fare rises on the haulage sector that will inevitably be passed on to each and every islander.”

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Brian Kenny, Scotland and Ireland's head of training for the Road Haulage Association indicated their increased costs would inevitably get passed onto the consumer.

"Any hike in operational costs is bad news for business, Island lorry and coach operators already pay higher prices for fuel and vital components than their counterparts on the mainland, adding to the cost of operating in this way forces prices upwards at a time when people islanders need consistency," he said.

"The rise in the fares don’t reflect the service our members receive, many have reported of being left off ferries in favour of tourism traffic and with only basic facilities for drivers on board the question has to be raised, why are businesses being asked to pay extra for a lower service standard.

"Road haulage and coach companies would normally take the ferry cost for each job and apportion it into the charge rate for each customer. A rise would indeed be passed on by proportion to the end user after taking into account any discounts offered for frequent use or special rates.

"This is much the same as with fuel prices, as the fuel price rises, the transporter will have to take this into account when setting their rates or fares. What would not normally happen is an increase in rates directly attributed to the pandemic.

"At a time when the users, hauliers and coach operators, of the ferries are starting to recover and with the probable rise in use from increased tourism from staycation, a rise in the fare will have a knock on effect."

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “The planned fares increase in 2020 was delayed in order to avoid further disadvantaging island communities and key workers at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This decision was welcomed by stakeholders at the time. As the planned 2021 increase is relatively small, the decision has been taken to bring fares back to the level that was originally planned.

“This additional revenue is essential to ensuring that we are able to continuedeliver vital lifeline ferry services across Scotland, fund service improvements, as well as making continued investment in vessels and infrastructure.”

CalMac directed approaches over the fares issue to Transport Scotland.