A public service or dis-service?

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Earlier this week it was confirmed that Loganair had won a four-year contract to operate Scottish government-funded flights on the west coast. The airline will be paid £21 million over the contract period to operate flights from Glasgow to Barra, Tiree and Campbeltown under a public service obligation (PSO).

Barra and passengers walking down to the beach for a flight

There also PSO’s covering routes between Kirkwall in the Orkneys the islands of Papa Westray, North Ronaldsay, Westray, Sanday, Stronsay and Eday. Tingwall/Sumburgh on Shetland has links to Fair Isle, Foula, the Skerries and Papa Stour.

Dundee even with its good rail connections to Edinburgh and onward has PSO’s allowing for flights to six airports around London.

Derry in Northern Ireland has a similar six links to airports near London.

In Wales, for example, there is an air service between Cardiff and Anglesey although gossip says that it is more widely used by politicians and civil servants rather than by the general public.

In Ireland there is a PSO air service between Dublin and both Donegal and Kerry and from Connemara to Inis Meáin, Inis Óir and Árainn.

The EU provides for public service obligations which link more remote areas by air, ferry, train or bus to larger towns and cities from which a wider transport opportunity exists.

Commenting on the Loganair contracts, Scottish Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said that the play “a crucial role for service industries and ensuring that residents have access to specialist healthcare.” “They also enable visitors to reach the islands easily, boosting local tourism.”

But are they essential given the concern for cutting plane carbon emissions? Is a plane journey really necessary between Dundee as well as Derry to six airports? Wouldn’t a link to just one be sufficient if it were needed at all? Why do Kerry and Donegal need flights to Dublin when a reasonable train service exists?

I can’t see any justification other to placate egos that a service should exist between Anglesey and Cardiff and that same argument would apply to the locomotive hauled service that runs from Holyhead in the morning and returns in the evening.

If governments feel that urgency is required in cutting emissions, PSO’s need looking at again. Linking islands where no ferries exist may be a justification. Where other transport opportunities are available then it might be time to remove other services.

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