Sandbanks Ferry inquiry into toll increases stopped to consider new proposals

The National Trust and a consortium of councils have both submitted alternative proposals to the Sandbanks Ferry company’s price increase plans.

The public inquiry into the application by the Sandbanks Ferry to increase the cost of tolls for everyone from foot passengers to coaches, incrementally until March 2032, has now been adjourned until January 2021 to consider the new proposals on the table.

Sandbanks ferry toll charges sign

The Sandbank Ferry company’s application proposal

Increases to be phased in, in line with inflation (retail price index measure of inflation).

Pedestrian (Sandbanks to Shell Bay) – Now £1.00. Proposed – £1.50
Pedestrian (Shell Bay to Sandbanks) – Now nil. Proposed – nil
Pedal or motorcycle – Now £1.00. Proposed £1.50
Passenger vehicle 17 persons (cars & light vans) – Now £4.50. Proposed – £6.75
Passenger vehicles up to 17 persons (coaches) – Now £9.00. Proposed – £13.50
Goods vehicles up to 3,500kg & 20,000kg (trucks) – Now £9.00. Proposed – £13.50

The application also proposes freezing the discount level 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 50. It’s proposed that their price remains unchanged until it reaches 26%-30% less than single trip tickets.

The ferry company says that it has to increase the tolls to generate enough income to fund the estimated £12.8m cost of replacing the ferry in 2032, which is required to meet its first objective of providing and maintaining a safe, reliable and cost effective ferry service. Its second objective, as stated in the application is, “To provide a reasonable return on the investment to its owner.”

Sandbanks Ferry

Alternative proposal by Swanage Town Council, Dorset Council, and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council

The first new alternative proposal is by a consortium of Swanage Town Council, Dorset Council, and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council. Corfe Castle Parish Council also backs the plan.

In its submission it states:

“The proposed alternative pricing model is intended to be clearer for users, promote low-carbon active travel and ultimately provide the same level of income for the ferry company as it indicated in its proposal.”

The key point that it puts forward is to freeze charges for pedestrians and cyclists at the current rate until March 2032 and to make up the loss of revenue by increasing the price of a single car journey.

It also proposes that the bulk purchase of tickets for pedestrian and cycle prices should be frozen, while bulk ticket prices for vehicles should not be higher than the ferry company’s current proposal.

It further suggests that:

“The increased fares go up in jumps over longer periods rather than by
confusing small increments each year.”

Overall, the proposal mainly focuses on promoting pedestrian and cyclist use of the ferry, over the use of vehicles and in doing so, only makes small modifications to the Sandbanks Ferry company’s plans.

Sandbanks Ferry

Alternative proposal by the National Trust

The second alternative proposal by the National Trust puts a greater focus on making the ferry a more viable route for commuters and challenges the logic of price increases, when from its calculations, the ferry is running on average, at only half its capacity.

In the submission compiled by the general manager for the National Trust in Purbeck, Tracey Churcher, it says:

“The ferry was established to provide local benefit and improve communication yet is running half empty on average across the year and significantly more than this in the winter months.

“As the ferry is obliged to provide a regular service, it would seem logical to consider how to increase usage levels of the ferry to improve its income as well as its utility to regular users.

“Anecdotally, I use the ferry at prime commuting times throughout the year and it is typically at least half empty for prime commuting slots (morning and evening off season and morning only during sunny summer days), with only one side of the ferry opened to traffic. My experience confirms the figures. Usage in the middle of the day during the low season is even less.

“The commuting alternative around the harbour is busy with traffic at commuting times, suggesting that the issue is the too high pricing to regular users, not that the ferry is not required.

“National Trust staff regularly refer to ‘treating themselves’ to a ferry ride in the mornings, illustrating that they consider it to be a luxury not their regular option.

“Virtually all deliveries received by the NT, are from routes driving around the harbour to avoid the ferry cost.”

The key point of the proposal is to introduce a variable pricing model to incentivise people who would benefit from regular ferry use to do so, in order to increase overall use of the ferry.

It is proposed that pre-bought tickets are available in batches of fifty for £100. The National Trust calculates that this equates to £2 per crossing and by restricting it to a bulk purchase, casual users are unlikely to want to purchase this amount, so will pay the full ticket price of £4.50.

The submission adds:

“In order to manage traffic on Ferry Road better – it could even be possible to flex the model further to include a super peak charge to reduce traffic on the road on the really problematic days.”

The conclusion to the proposal says that an increase of only around seven percent in the use of the ferry, would result in the following benefits according to the National Trust:

  • An affordable crossing price for regular users, (£80per month for daily commuting as opposed to the current £136)
  • This model only increases use to 57% of capacity. This conservative improvement still leaves much capacity for future growth. For example, lower fares again for off season middle of day usage
  • A return to the ferry being seen as the utility it was originally intended to be.
  • The ferry company able to achieve its financial targets
  • Less impact on the environment by avoiding the 44 mile round trip for regular users
  • The potential ability to manage peak traffic on ferry road better
  • A reduction in traffic on commuter routes around the harbour. This will also benefit the Purbeck villages on main roads
  • Reputational benefit for the ferry company
  • A benefit to businesses in Studland/Swanage from additional business in the off season
  • A clear benefit to people of BCP wishing to access nature on their doorstep
  • A benefit to Purbeck residents needing to access the facilities of BCP

Overall, the proposal focuses on increasing the use of the ferry, so that the ferry company makes more money by more people using it, rather than increasing the tolls. This plan from the National Trust will require the Sandbanks Ferry company to change its approach to its plans.

Sandbanks ferry

19 organisations and individuals have submitted objections

In addition to the two counter proposals to the ferry company’s plans, there are also 19 organisations and individuals who have submitted objections to the Sandbanks Ferry public inquiry, including Swanage Town Council, Studland Parish Council, Langton Matravers Parish Council, Worth Matravers Parish Council and Corfe Castle Parish Council.

Submit your comments on the proposed alternatives

To submit comments on the suggested alternatives, email the Planning Inspectorate no later than close of business on Wednesday 9th December 2020.

The documents relating to the public inquiry into the toll application 2020 are available on the Sandbanks Ferry website

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