Ferry firms on the Isle of Wight are running a very basic ‘skeleton’ service – due to a drop in demand amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Isle of Wight Radio understands the car ferries will run every two hours or so and there will be one service for foot passengers only.
Maintaining a skeleton service will ensure essential goods can reach the Island and deter any potential visitors, according to Bob Seely MP.
Wightlink says it will suspend its Portsmouth Harbour-Ryde Pier Head FastCat foot passenger route from Monday 6 April until further notice.
It will also run a two-hourly service on one of its large ships from 6am Tuesday 7 April.
Wightlink Chief Executive Keith Greenfield said:
“We are sorry to suspend our FastCat route and reduce sailings between Portsmouth and Fishbourne, however we will still be able to transport all essential travellers and supplies to the Isle of Wight using one of our largest ships.”
Under the leadership of Isle of Wight Council during the COVID-19 crisis, all cross-Solent operators are working together to keep the Island connected. Wightlink’s foot passenger tickets will be accepted on Red Funnel and Hovertravel. This includes rail tickets and season tickets.”
Red Funnel has announced it will be making further changes to its Red Jet service, as it works to ensure it continues to offer a lifeline service, particularly for key workers travelling to and from the Isle of Wight.
The firm says foot passengers will continue to be able to travel on Red Funnel’s vehicle ferry service, which will continue to operate to its advertised schedule throughout the day.
The new schedule from Saturday 4 April is :
Morning: 05:45, 06:45, 07:45 08:45
Evening: 16:45, 17:45, 18:45, 19:45, 20:45
From West Cowes:
Morning: 06:15, 07:15, 08:15, 09:15
Evening: 17:15, 18:15, 19:15, 20:15, 21:15
Fran Collins, CEO of Red Funnel, said:
“We have seen a significant decline in foot passengers using our Red Jet service in recent weeks due to the government’s guidance regarding non-essential travel. Whilst we are pleased the public is taking this advice seriously and only travelling if absolutely necessary, it subsequently means we are seeing very reduced passenger numbers on all sailings, particularly on our off-peak services where we have sailings operating with very few or even no customers at all.
“Given the current government guidance and very low passengers numbers, the revised timetable is more appropriate and the crossing times will still enable the majority of those still travelling with us to continue to use the Red Jet service, especially NHS and key workers. We are also continuing to operate our vehicle ferry services that foot passengers can use.”
Hovertravel will continue to provide its fast service, which not only carries foot passengers but is also used by the Royal Mail and brings all the pharmaceuticals to the Island.
Essential travellers, including key workers, who have pre-booked with Wightlink (including season card holders) will be able to use Hovertravel services, with no additional fare payable and will also be able to use the HoverBus for onward connections within Portsmouth.
In addition, if required due to adverse weather conditions, Hovertravel tickets will be accepted at Wightlink’s Portsmouth‐Fishbourne car ferry.
Neil Chapman, managing director of Hovertravel, said:
“All the ferries are dedicated to keep key workers and vital supplies flowing to the Island. By co-operating we are, together, maintaining robust and resilient links which can sustain the Island through these challenging times.
“We appreciate and sympathise with the difficult decisions Wightlink is making, and we are offering our full support to a fellow ferry operator and our close neighbour in Ryde.”
“Ticket acceptance between operators is commonplace amongst rail companies and by deploying such measures here for cross Solent travel, we are demonstrating that all ferry operators are united in their mission to ensure the Isle of Wight remains connected.”
As part of this, in the event the hovercraft is unable to operate due to weather conditions, Southern Vectis will be arranging for its number 9 service to go via Wightlink’s Fishbourne terminal to provide a foot passenger connection from both Newport and Ryde.
Bob Seely MP
MP for the Isle of Wight Bob Seely told Isle of Wight Radio:
“We do however need a skeleton ferry service to ensure food and medical supplies can get to the Island. We also need to make sure that key workers can come here to support the NHS and other vital services that keep people alive and safe.
“I spoke yesterday to the Chief Constable of Hants. and the Isle of Wight, Olivia Pinkney, to see what can reasonably be done to deter any potential visitors over the Easter period. We agreed that in Britain we have a tradition of policing by consent in this country and we need to be mindful of that. However, the Chief Constable will see what measures can be taken.
“The three ferry firms as well as tourism businesses on the Island are doing their best to ensure that we do not have holiday-makers and visitors coming to the Island at this time. They are behaving very responsibly and I thank them for that.”