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Serco NorthLink Ferries’ latest passenger volumes data shows signs of recovery

Published: 11 Sep 2020

Serco NorthLink Ferries has recorded an increase in passenger and car volumes since the move to Phase 3 of the Scottish Government’s route map – as it prepares to open its 2021 booking system at the start of October.

From March 22 to the end of June, NorthLink Ferries provided travel for key workers as well as essential islander and freight connectivity between the Northern Isles and mainland Scotland.

Since 10 July, booking systems have been open and aligned with the Scottish Government’s Phase 3 criteria for public transport, which has allowed for an increase in capacity across all services.

During the period 22 March to 31 August, passenger numbers across all routes were 43,918 compared with 218,138 over the same period in 2019, a reduction of 80 per cent.

There were strong signs of recovery in August, with passenger numbers at 23,060 compared to 52,705 in August 2019, a decrease of 56 per cent.

Car volumes from 22 March to 31 August were recorded at 15,104 which represented a 74 per cent reduction on the 57,703 recorded in the same period in 2019. In August, car volumes were at 7,989 compared to 13,469 in 2019, a reduction of 41 per cent.

Freight volumes, which provide essential inward supplies and services as well as outward exports, have held up strongly. Freight lane meterage was recorded at 220,227 from 22 March to 31 August, a 16 per cent reduction year-on-year. However, in August there was 49,211 lane metres recorded which is only a five per cent reduction on the 51,816 recorded in the same month last year.

Since the beginning of travel restrictons in March, there have been a total of 10,696 cabins and 1,342 pods used, a reduction from 39,247 cabins and 11,120 pods in the same period of 2019. Again, these figures showed signs of recovery in August, with 4,520 cabins used compared to 8,072 in August 2019.

Stuart Garrett, Serco’s Managing Director of NorthLink Ferries, said: “Since mid-July, we have seen volumes begin to increase and that trend has continued throughout August which is encouraging.

“This remains, of course, a challenging operating environment, and we continue to proceed with caution. While our capacity is at an increased level from the levels in Phase 1 and 2, it remains constrained to ensure appropriate physical distancing, while we continue to review and manage our service offering.

“Our freight volumes have been particularly strong throughout the pandemic, and everyone at NorthLink Ferries is pleased to have played a vital role in ensuring that inward goods and export markets from Shetland and Orkney have been well served throughout the period.

“We will continue to closely monitor passenger, car and freight volumes and look forward to the planned opening of our 2021 booking system at the beginning of October.”

NorthLink Ferries’ services are operating on their normal timetable. Assessments have been carried out to ensure appropriate physical distancing can be maintained, which in turn has allowed capacity to be increased. On the MV Hjaltland and MV Hrossey, capacity is set at 335 while on the MV Hamnavoe it is set at 370.

Passenger travel on the MV Helliar and MV Hildasay is currently suspended to ensure extra resilience is maintained on these lifeline freight services, ahead of the peak period of livestock carryings due to the annual September sales.

Bookings can be made at or by calling 0845 6000 449.