THE company running the Lymington-to-Yarmouth ferry has defended itself against a former transport minister who said its performance was so poor it should be nationalised.
Wightlink’s services were among the cross-Solent operators attacked as “badly run and expensive” by Labour peer Lord Adonis, who was transport secretary in 2009/10, when he took to Twitter to highlight problems with infrastructure on the Isle of Wight.
He specifically pointed to the latest disruption on the Lymington-to-Yarmouth route, which was hit by delays and cancellations on Monday due to what Wightlink said was “extreme weather” and a mechanical issue.
In a list of suggested actions, Lord Adonis said: “The ferries, badly run and expensive, should be nationalised.”
According to Wightlink’s own @WightlinkTravel Twitter feed, there have been 14 days since the beginning of June when mechanical or technical issues across its routes have caused delays or cancellations.
Lord Adonis’s intervention comes as Wightlink is trying to recover its reputation from three on-board fires within 16 months on the Lymington-to-Yarmouth ferry, the last of which was in December 2018.
In February this year half a dozen trips on the route were cancelled within 24 hours after a crew member fell down stairs.
The company operates Isle of Wight services from Lymington and Portsmouth, where it is based.
Chief executive Keith Greenfield apologised for the disrupted sailing on Monday which he blamed on high winds and a mechanical problem.
He said: “We work hard to deliver good service every day, and all of us at Wightlink feel bad when we are unable to do that, often for reasons outside our control.
“If Lord Adonis were to examine our reliability record so far this year, he will find just 1.3 advertised services out of every 100 cancelled on the route – none at all were cancelled in June.
“Our punctuality exceeds 95%, both of which compare very favourably with other transport sectors and it is something the taxpayer-subsidised rail industry can only dream of.”
He added: “But we are not complacent – our job is to keep on improving all of our services for everyone who travels with us.
“That is why we have just spent £45m on a new hybrid energy flagship and port improvements on our Portsmouth-Fishbourne route.”
As well as nationalising Isle of Wight ferries, which are also provided from Southampton by Red Funnel, Lord Adonis called for an independent review of a “fixed link” with the mainland to consider a rail tunnel between Portsmouth and Ryde.
He also suggested free travel over the Solent for under-21s, alongside government investment in jobs and education on the Island.
As reported in the A&T, an attempt to set up a rival foot passenger service between Lymington and Yarmouth failed in 2016 when the plug was pulled on Starlight Ferries, a trial venture by retired businessman John Dexter.