ISLE of Wight MP Bob Seely has fired a broadside at Wightlink and Red Funnel saying they have 'penalised' Islanders who travel amid 'limited' investment into their ferries, as part of a new study.

The Conservative MP for the Island since 2017 was critical of both ferry firms in his detailed new probe into cross-Solent ferry services.

However, Mr Seely hopes a new plan he has hatched will offer a 'common agenda' that could solve many of the issues that have made Red Funnel and Wightlink a target for bitter criticism from customers.

“The Isle of Wight needs — and deserves — a better deal from the ferry firms than the one we have,"  said Mr Seely.

"The status quo has lasted 40 years. I believe we need a new joint approach. 

Where to view Bob Seely's full report

The MP's report can be viewed on his website, where feedback is welcomed:  

“Recently, Islanders have been let down with delays and cancellations to both Red Funnel and Wightlink services. 

“My research has led me to believe that, using a web of offshore companies, Wightlink and Red Funnel’s owners and lenders have taken large profits out of the firms for years.

"To drive efficiency and take even more profits, directors have cut timetables, introduced 'surge' pricing — which penalises Islanders for making essential journeys at peak times — and limited investment in ferries, some of which are now 34 years old.

"Islanders are tired of ‘technical’ and ‘mechanical’ issues. The firms pay little to no corporation tax and are accountable only to their shareholders. We all lose. 

“So far, I have raised the issues with three Secretaries of State for Transport and three separate Maritime Ministers.

"We have had some victories, including Wightlink's Discounted Fares Scheme for Islanders, better rail connections at Lymington and later services into Ryde Pier Head. 

“However, we need a collective plan to turn things around. 

“The report includes ideas for better services, pricing and ticketing, with more transparent ownership and identifies the problems and potential solutions.

"We need more robust arrangements in place to hold ferry services to account — and that includes regulation." 

The MP’s report considers proposals for a Solent ferries regulator, Department for Transport oversight, price caps on health journeys and voluntary regulation. 

Crucially, Mr Seely adds: "A regulator could mandate more regular services, permanent improvements in early and late passenger services, stronger sanctions for the operators when services are cancelled, better compensation schemes for passengers affected by cancelled sailings and duties placed on ferry companies to better connect with rail services.  

"The regulator could also mandate greater discounts for Islanders, more multi-link ticketing options, and electronic through-ticketing on all services, with ongoing rail connections and options for foot-passengers to book seats. " 

Mr Seely said there were sound reasons why now is the time to act.  

  • Red Funnel and Wightlink have ageing car ferries and require significant capital investment to renew their vessels and shoreside infrastructure.
  • As part of the Islands Forum initiative, the government is looking into connectivity between the mainland and UK Islands.  
  • During the Covid-19 pandemic, the two ferry firms took a limited amount of public money in recognition they had an obligation to provide lifeline services.

"Services, timetables and prices are currently at the ferry firms’ discretion," continued the MP.

"However, with the government already looking at minimum service levels for passenger rail, I think we should ask them to look at similar options for ferries.” 

Mr Seely is seeking feedback on his study in the coming weeks, through his website, with a view to producing a final report, which he hopes will be backed by the Isle of Wight Council, to begin "re-engaging with government ministers, officials and the ferry firms with a clear agenda and priorities.”

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