This letter first appeared in ‘On the Wight’. Link below.

We need to talk about a subject that is taboo on the Island. A subject that certain people think it’s very important that we don’t discuss.

We need to talk about discounts offered by ferry companies to customers.

£250 return fares
There are regularly posts on social media talking about vehicle ferry return tickets costing around, or in excess of £250. These are tickets bought by Island residents, as Island residents, for their own personal use, during peak travel time.

These tickets are subject to ‘demand pricing’ by the ferry companies: when more people want to travel, they raise the prices. This is to encourage people to travel at other times.

Like after midnight, on Wednesdays.

Differing costs for businesses
What price are small businesses paying for tickets in these peak times? About £80 per return.

What price are large businesses paying for tickets in these peak times? About £65 per return.

About a quarter of the cost of a public ticket
Large businesses are getting about 74 per cent discount in peak travel times – and no ‘demand pricing’: their ticket costs are flat all through the day.

Their customers and employees can travel any time of the day, for about a quarter of the cost of a public ticket.

Even out of peak, large businesses are getting big discounts: public price £130 for someone from the Island to take their car to The Mainland. Price for a large business? £56 return. That’s over 50 per cent discount.

Perks for employees
But it’s not just large businesses getting these discounts, it’s their employees, too. Many large businesses offer their rates to their staff, as a perk.

So if you have a good job with a large company, on the Island, you get much cheaper ferry tickets to leave the Island at any time of the day, on any day of the year.

Four times the cost
Unemployed, or in a job for a small company that doesn’t have access to a trade account?

Then you’ll be paying four times what the person working for the large company is for your ferry tickets.

The haves and have-nots
This is where things get ugly: the ferry companies have ensured that those who have access to cut-price tickets for work don’t shout about it, by allowing companies with access to those accounts to book however many tickets they want and for whatever purpose they want.

This divides people living on the Island into haves and have-nots. Those who have access to cheap ferry tickets keep quiet, because it makes a huge difference to their lifestyles and their pockets.

Can’t always avoid the horrific pricing
Those who don’t have access to discounts have to scratch around for vouchers, or travel in the dead of night. They’ll do whatever they can to avoid the horrific pricing, but sometimes they can’t.

Sometimes they need to travel to a job interview, or to a hospital appointment.

Small businesses
In between this there are small businesses, or businesses who don’t need to buy many tickets, who are paying a rate much less than the public prices, but significantly more than the large businesses.

The silence of tourism businesses of this type is bought by the ferry companies, because they can add money to the price they’re selling tickets to customers, still offer a good discount and make money on buying tickets for their customers.

There will be other examples of how wonky the pricing is and who’s benefitting from the biggest discounts.

Poorest subsidising the wealthiest
The overall net effect of this is that the poorest in society on the Island, are subsidising the travel of the wealthiest and the businesses who can best afford to pay higher prices.

There is a substantial ongoing financial interest for those who pay the least to stifle any discussion about ferry costs.

Multiple ticket books
Even the multiple ticket books graciously offered to Island residents are extremely limited in terms of the number of tickets offered on each sailing, to ensure that residents ‘feel the benefit’ of making such a significant investment and commitment to travel.

This inequality has to stop: there needs to be one price, for everyone, per sailing, for people travelling from the Island and one price per sailing for people travelling to the Island.

Discounting needs exposing
Obviously there are different prices for travel with different heights and weights of vehicles, but the discounting in favour of large customers, rather than residents, for this lifeline service needs exposing.

We need to talk about it and it has to stop.

Grossly unreasonable and immoral
It hugely disadvantages the poor and disadvantages small businesses on the Island, too. It is grossly unreasonable and immoral.

The ferry companies need to consider the damage they are doing to the Isle of Wight’s social landscape and be more equitable and reasonable for everyone.