ROAD EQUIVALENT TARIFFS were introduced to the CalMac network between 2012 and 2015. The previous fares were inconsistent and generally very high, particularly on shorter routes like ours. 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 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, although in reality the fares remain higher than a ‘true’ RET system would calculate.

However, the fare reduction has been substantial – On the Oban-Craignure route a car and four passengers was previously £106.08 return; under RET it is £55.60. A halving of fares for car and foot passengers has had a big impact on demand, as you can see below:

The impact has been most profound on the Oban-Craignure route, which has benefited from the largest reductions. Tobermory-Kilchoan has shown a modest increase, whilst Fishnish-Lochaline as actually fallen back a little. Lochaline-Fishnish fares did not decrease to the same extent as Oban-Craignure; and combined with increases on the Corran ferry, this route has lost its price advantage.

The increases in the winter are similar:

It is clear that not only as RET encouraged more summer visitors to our islands, but also enables local residents to travel more freely.

There remain some significant and contentious anomalies in the RET system – the main one being that it does not apply to commercial vehicles. This leads to the perverse situation where a truck carrying essential supplies to the islands pays far more than the same size of private vehicle –

OBAN-CRAIGNURE RETURN 6 Metres 8 Metres 10 Metres
Campervan £26.80 £40.20 £53.60
Commercial £165.84 £221.12 £276.40

This is an anomaly that Scottish Government have attempted to address with a Freight Fares Review. It has never concluded however, and has been delayed multiple times. It would require an increase in subsidy to CalMac without savings or fare increases elsewhere; and if applied network-wide may have the politically-unpalatable effect of increasing fares to the Outer Isles. For Mull and Iona however it remains a significant injustice, a barrier to economic development and contributes to increased costs on the islands for everyone who lives here. It is an issue the Ferry Committee will make a campaigning priority in the near-term.

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