Belfast Telegraph

Watchdog questions ferry costs

Unease at big price gap between Irish Sea and English Channel routes

The Consumer Council has queried whether Northern Irish consumers are getting fair treatment and value on ferries.

Doubts over pricing have arisen after it launched a report examining perceptions and experiences of ferry passengers here.

The report contains recommendations that are aimed at improving value for money for passengers and making sure those with a disability are able to access services.

Scott Kennerley, head of policy at the Consumer Council, said: “Our research has shown that although ferry passengers are happy with the standard of service, many are unhappy at the prices they have to pay to get to Great Britain, when compared to journeys of a similar length from English ports.”

The watchdog pointed out that for sailings booked online in July, August and September 2011 the average cost for a family of four with car on P&O’s Larne to Cairnryan route was £268.5, and £261.06 on Stena Line’s Belfast to Stranraer service. The comparable fare on the DFDS Dover to Dunkirk service was £56.89.

A Stena spokesman said the new report highlighted that 95% of passengers were satisfied with the service they received and 75% were satisfied with the cost.

“Fares have fallen considerably since 1993, whilst the quality of service has increased,” he said.

“During the period 1993-2011 oil prices have increased by 500%. It is virtually impossible to compare one route with another across different countries. Market conditions differ throughout Europe and there are a large number of mitigating factors influencing prices including port taxes, fuel costs and government taxes.”

A P&O spokesman said it was pleased at the satisfaction level recorded.

But he added that comparisons on the route were misleading: “On the English Channel there is massive over-capacity and subsidised foreign competition, both of which have driven prices to an unrealistically low level.”

Background

Scott Kennerley said the Consumer Council will work with ferry operators to ensure that all passengers are made aware of their rights under new legislation and that passengers with a disability or reduced mobility do not face barriers when travelling by ferry. He added: “We are calling on the Northern Ireland Executive and ferry operators to act upon the recommendations in our report.” Copies of the report are available online at www.consumercouncil.org.uk.

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