Public inquiry into Sandbanks Ferry’s proposed inflation-linked toll increases

The Department for Transport has announced that a public inquiry will be held to examine the new proposed toll increases for the Sandbanks Ferry.

Last March 2020, the Sandbanks Ferry operating company applied to the Secretary of State for Transport for a new price increase of around five percent for 2020 and for future annual rises to be linked to inflation.

This followed the rejection at a public inquiry in 2018 of a controversial plan to increase the tolls.

Now this new bid to increase tolls will also be scrutinised at a public inquiry to be held from 9.30 am on Monday 16th November 2020.

Cars on the Sandbanks Ferry

“The inquiry will be held as a virtual event”

In a notice inviting the public to attend, the Depart for Transport announced:

“The inquiry will be held as a virtual event, run by an inspector in the normal way but with the parties invited to join via Microsoft Teams or telephone.

“Please make it clear in your response whether you wish only to appear at the inquiry, make a statement or whether you would also wish to ask questions on topics.

“Those wishing to join the meeting should contact ETC@planninginspectorate.gov.uk quoting the DPI reference number (DPI/G1250/20/9) and giving their contact details. Alternatively, phone 0303 444 5572.”

Plagued by operating problems

The Sandbanks Ferry has been plagued by operating problems over the last two years. During summer 2019, the ferry was out of service due to mechanical problems that took many months to fix.

In 2020, coronavirus restrictions meant that the ferry ceased operating for several months as the number of vehicles wishing to use the service plummeted making it uneconomic to continue.

While it was moored for safety in Poole Harbour in May 2020, a large piece of concrete unexpectedly detached from the fixed jetty and fell into the ferry causing significant damage to its hull. After being fixed, it eventually returned to service in June 2020.

Sandbanks ferry toll charges sign

New proposed toll increases to be examined by the public inquiry

Based on the ferry company’s financial projections, this is what it could mean for passengers for a single trip:

Pedestrian, cyclist and motorcyclist

Current toll 2020 – £1.00
Proposed 2020 – £1.05 (set Maximum Tolls Chargeable amount)
Proposed 2028 – £1.30 (inflation linked)

Car

Current toll 2020 – £4.50
Proposed 2020 – £4.75 (set Maximum Tolls Chargeable amount)
Proposed 2028 – £6.00 (inflation linked)

HGV and coach

Current toll 2020 – £9.00
Proposed 2020 – £9.50 (set Maximum Tolls Chargeable amount)
Proposed 2028 – £12.00 (inflation linked)

The company says that the Maximum Tolls Chargeable amount for 2020 represents an increase of less than half the rate of inflation since it was last set in February 2015.

The previous controversial application, that was rejected following a public enquiry and angry protests from passengers, proposed to increase tolls by April 2021 to £2 for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, £6 for cars and £12 for HGV’s and coaches.

The new proposal sees the toll for cars, HGV’s and coaches reaching the same amount but not until seven years later than first proposed in 2018. For pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, the prospect of an increase to £2, if linked to inflation, seems unlikely for a long time. The ferry company figures anticipate them paying £1.45 in 2031.

Books of tickets

The application also proposes freezing the price of the books of tickets at the current level until at least 2021. These tickets, that are mostly bought by local residents are available to buy in multiples between 10 and 100. It’s proposed that their price remains unchanged until it reaches 26%-30% less than single trip tickets.

As the price of a single ticket increases, the gap between the frozen price and the new price will mean that the discount will increase, although the price paid will go up.

Pedestrian, cyclist and motorcyclist

Current price of 50 tickets 2020 – £45.00
First proposed increase will be in April 2025 – £45.14

Car

Current price of 50 tickets 2020 – £170.00
First proposed increase will be in April 2021 – £171.15

HGV and coach

Current price of 50 tickets 2020 – £340.00
First proposed increase will be in April 2021 – £342.65

Sandbanks Ferry being prepared for a return to service

“Detailed discussions over the past 12 months”

Managing Director of the Sandbanks Ferry Company, Mike Kean, speaking in March 2020 when the toll increase was proposed, said:

“We have held detailed discussions over the past 12 months with local residents, councillors and MPs and have incorporated their feedback into the application proposals.

“These include increasing the discounts applied to bulk purchase of tickets and pledging not to pay dividends until the Ferry Replacement Fund is at the required level in any given year. We are incredibly grateful for their time and input.

“Toll increases are a necessary part of the mix in ensuring that our vital service to local businesses, residents and tourists is maintained long into the future, and we look forward to the application progressing over the coming months.”

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