Thursday, 14 July 2022
Department of Rural and Community Development
909. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the present maximum adult islander fare charged on subsidised island ferry services; the increase or decrease in this in the past five years; the number of islands that have subsidised and non-subsidised ferry services operated by different operators on the same routes to islands; the names of the islands that have such services; if she intends on decreasing the islander fares charged to travel to and from the islands; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39027/22]
As the Deputy is aware, my Department currently manages a suite of contracts covering 26 transport services to 19 separate off-shore islands. These lifeline services ensure that the island communities can avail of reliable, affordable, year round connectivity to the mainland.
Contracts for these subsidised passenger and cargo services are procured by the Department of Rural and Community Development on the open market through the e-tenders procurement process. This ensures that all providers are treated equally and that the selection process is fair and transparent for all.
To ensure that a subsidised service remains affordable for the duration of an agreed contract, the Department sets maximum fares that an operator can charge visitors and islanders respectively for using the service. Each operator is free to set their own prices up to the maximum rates specified within the contract.
The islander rates represent a significant discount – up to 67% in some cases – compared to the standard visitor rates, in order to ensure that the services are affordable for island communities at all times of the year.
The maximum rates vary across the 26 services managed by this Department. Within the contacts currently in place, the present maximum islander rates range from €5 to €12. The comparable maximum rates for visitors range from €6 to €30, meaning visitors pay at least 20% more than islanders and in many cases the visitor rates are significantly higher than the islanders rates.
The maximum rates for most services have not changed in the past five years. The maximum rates applying to each contract are set out in advance of each service being procured and form an integral part of the contract for each service.
As the Deputy will appreciate, any unilateral action to alter the terms of the existing contracts could represent a breach of contract and bring the entire procurement process into disrepute, which could have a detrimental impact on the ongoing operation of these vital services.
My Department will continue to examine ways of ensuring the affordability and sustainability of island transport services, both within existing contracts and in future.
My Department does not maintain any data in relation to non-subsidised ferry services. The Marine Survey Office (MSO) in the Department of Transport may be in a position to provide the Deputy with the information requested in this regard.