WIGHTLINK’S further service cuts could spark a fresh investigation by the Office of Fair Trading.
The reduction in Fastcat sailings in the ferry company’s new timetable, announced yesterday (Wednesday), has resulted in Isle of Wight MP Andrew Turner announcing plans to work with other interested parties to ask the OFT to look again at cross-Solent travel.
The company said the reductions followed a study that found some crossings were 90 per cent empty at a time when fuel costs were rising. It said they also allowed passengers to make better use of discounted rail fares.
Mr Turner said he wanted the Isle of Wight Council, as transport authority, to join a cross-party submission and is seeking an urgent meeting with the authority.
In 2009 the OFT carried out a detailed market study on cross-Solent ferry services, and although it found some elements of the market were not working competitively, it decided not to refer the issue to the Competition Commission.
Mr Turner said at that time the OFT found "limited evidence of actual consumer detriment," but that latest announcements added-up to "death by a thousand cuts."
It could tip the balance in favour of a full Competition Commission probe into services being affected, because too much had been paid by Wightlink’s owners to acquire the company, he said.
Mr Turner said: "Once again Wightlink has cut important services with no reference to, or consultation with, their passengers.
"This follows cuts to car ferry services in January — also made without consultation."
He said Hovertravel consulted on planned changes to its services and dropped plans as a result. Red Funnel maintained services throughout the night.
"Taking those factors into account I believe the time is right to ask the OFT to look closely at Wightlink’s decisions, and, in particular, to consider now whether there is evidence that high debt levels have played a part in them," said Mr Turner.