Serco NorthLink Ferries has been operating a revised service during Phase 1 and 2 of lockdown, which has provided travel for key workers as well as essential islander and freight connectivity between the Northern Isles and mainland Scotland.
During the period 22 March to 30 June, passenger numbers across all routes were 6,010 in comparison to 112,416 over the same period in 2019, representing a reduction of 95 per cent.
From mid-April, there were 4,863 journeys for declared essential travel – with 42 per cent of those being key workers in sectors including energy, fishing, aquaculture, telecoms, utilities and agriculture. In addition, islander travel accounted for 1,338 journeys with reasons for travel including caring, returning students and family-related issues. NHS travel – whether staff or patients – accounted for 14 per cent of travel in this period and a total of 665 journeys.
Across the wider 22 March – 30 June period, vehicles were recorded at 2,205 – down from 31,078 in 2019 which is 93 per cent lower. Freight volumes, which provide essential inward supplies and services as well as outward exports, have been strong but still recorded a 16 per cent decrease, while there was a reduction in freight lane meterage of 34,325 since 22 March – a 21 per cent decrease compared to the same period last year.
A total of 10,004 bookings were cancelled during the period, representing a reduction of 35,101 passengers across all services. This has led to more than £4.2m in refunds being processed. 70 passengers were refused travel during Phase 1 and 2 of lockdown as they did not meet the criteria for travel.
Stuart Garrett, Serco’s Managing Director of NorthLink Ferries, said: “In line with Phase 3 of the Scottish Government’s roadmap out of the COVID-19 crisis, all passengers are now able to travel on our routes with capacity increased, but still curtailed, on our vessels.
“We are proud to have provided an essential service between the Scottish Mainland and Orkney and Shetland during this national emergency, which had an understandable and expected impact on passenger volume.
“Due to the proactive approach we took during this period with cancellations, we were able to ensure capacity was available at all times for those eligible to travel under government guidelines. Our analysis shows we supported a range of key sectors during this period, while also providing essential travel for islanders and NHS staff and patients.
“While we expect passenger numbers to rise during the weeks ahead, particularly with the re-opening of the tourist industry, we would remind passengers to continue to exercise caution.”
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 now set at 335 while on the MV Hamnavoe it is set at 370.
Passenger travel on the MV Helliar and MV Hildasay remains suspended to ensure extra resilience is maintained on these lifeline freight services.
Bookings can be made at www.northlinkferries.co.uk or by calling 0845 6000 449.