Scrapping RET for lorries threatens freight’s vital role in island life

Monday 30 January 2012

Scrapping the Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) for lorries which use ferry services to move goods between the Western Isles of Scotland and the mainland will increase transport costs and stoke inflation in those island communities, warns the Freight Transport Association.

The RET sets ferry fares to the equivalent cost for vehicles travelling the same distance by road and in 2008 a pilot scheme was introduced for the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree. But from April lorries will not be included in the scheme, which will continue for cars, coaches and small commercial vehicles under 3.5 tonnes.

Christopher MacRae, FTA’s Head of Policy for Scotland, said:

"Ending RET for lorries is bad news for operators and the island communities themselves. It will increase transport costs further and, if these costs are passed on, it will see the cost of living rise too. RET was introduced to boost the local tourist trade and island economies, and it has been widely acknowledged that in this respect it has been very successful, but let’s not underestimate the vital role that freight has played in the success of island life. In the current economic climate, threatening inflation to Scotland’s tourist industry is a grave misjudgement."

RET will be replaced by an enhanced discount scheme offering up to 25 per cent discount on ferry fares (up from the pre-RET maximum level of 15 per cent). It is also intended that the new larger commercial vehicle discount scheme be made more inclusive than its predecessor to avoid bias against small to medium volume users. It is intended to implement the scheme by the end of March to coincide with the ending of RET. Further, it is understood there may be transitional arrangements.

MacRae concluded: "It is understood that the new lorry discount scheme will not apply to occasional users, and even with a 25 per cent discount, costs to larger commercial vehicles will increase by over 100 per cent.

"Budgetary pressure is cited by Scottish Government as the reason for the financial cutback of RET for lorries, and we understand that the proposed new lorry discount scheme will not be extended to other routes. Yet RET will be extended for cars, small commercial vehicles and coaches to inter island services across the Sounds of Barra and Harris and there will be further RET pilots but again lorries are not included. It is also planned to extend RET to other West Coast and Clyde islands, but again not for lorries. FTA has written to the Minister for Housing and Transport expressing our dismay and concern at these decisions."

Members whose operations or supply chains are affected by these changes are asked to contact Christopher MacRae 07818 450353

Notes to editors

1. A full copy of the final report can be found at

2. The Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) scheme involves setting ferry fares on the basis of the cost of travelling an equivalent distance by road. Typically RET would offer substantial fares reductions across almost all ferry routes in Scotland. A pilot has been running in the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree since October 2008 and is due to end in spring 2012.

3. Vehicles on the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree routes that currently pay CalMac’s commercial vehicle rate will have RET replaced by an enhanced pre-RET discount scheme. The maximum pre-RET discount was 15%. This has been increased to 25%.

One calculation from an FTA member showed that without RET the fares increase from Lochmaddy to Uig would be +172% and even with the 25% discount it would still see a fare increase of +104%.

4. Commercial vehicles that fall within the measurements required to attract a car ticket will attract RET. CalMac charge their commercial vehicle rate to vehicles that are over 5m in length, 2.3m in width, 3m in height or 3.5 tonnes in weight. Coaches will continue to attract RET.

5. Routes Included in RET Plans

Confirmed to continue from spring 2012:

- Western Isles: Oban-Castlebay, Oban – Lochboisdale, Ullapool – Stornoway, Uig-Tarbert, Uig-Lochmaddy 
- Coll and Tiree: Oban-Coll-Tiree

Confirmed to begin a pilot in October 2012:

- Colonsay: Oban – Colonsay – Port Askaig– Kennacraig
- Gigha: Tayinloan - Gigha 
- Islay: Kennacraig – Port Askaig/Port Ellen

Confirmed to begin a pilot in October 2014:

- Arran: Ardrossan – Brodick & Claonaig – Lochranza

Confirmed to be rolled out within the term of this Parliament:

- Bute: Colintraive – Rhubodach & Wemyss Bay – Rothesay 
- Cumbrae: Largs - Cumbrae Slip
- Iona: Fionnphort - Iona 
- Lismore: Oban - Lismore 
- Mull: Oban-Craignure, Tobermory-Kilchoan & Lochaline-Fishnish 
- Raasay: Sconser– Raasay 
- Skye: Mallaig-Armadale 
- Small Isles: Mallaig – Eigg, Muck, Rum, Canna 
- Sound of Barra: Barra-Eriskay 
- Sound of Harris: Berneray-Leverburgh

Transport Scotland will consider roll out of RET to Local Authority, commercially run routes and mainland – mainland routes following the outcome of the Ferries Review. 


FTA Press Office

01892 552255