THE tourist industry in Orkney and Shetland will receive a further boost after a scheme for discounted ferry fares was extended.

Foot passengers paying to travel by ferry to the islands will see their fares drop by more than 40 per cent while car fares will also be reduced by an average of more than 30 per cent on NorthLink Ferries’ services.

It comes nine years after the Western Isles saw the introduction of the Road Equivalent Tariff (RET), which heralded a huge increase in traffic, particularly tourists, when it was first introduced on routes to and from the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree in 2008.

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It was expanded to Islay, Colonsay and Gigha in 2012, then Arran in 2014 and the rest of the CalMac network the following year.

It has been a bone of contention with Northern Isles’ parliamentarians that Orkney and Shetland were not included, although the Scottish Government did introduce a two-tier fare system for islanders and visitors. This will now be replaced with a flat rate RET structure.

It will mean that a single ticket between Scrabster in Caithness and Stromness in Orkney in peak season for two people with a vehicle will cost around £42.00, instead of the current prices of £68.46 for islanders and £97.80 for non-islanders.

Because of the special formula recognising the longer journey, visitors going from Aberdeen to Shetland will see a bigger drop of over 50 per cent from the current single fare of £228.00 for two people with a car to £110.00.

MSPs Liam McArhur, for Orkney, and Tavish Scott, for Shetland, who have long campaigned for the Scottish Government to end “discrimination” the Northern Isles, welcomed the news.

Meanwhile Orkney Islands Council Leader James Stockan said: “We have long wished to see travel south made more affordable for the people of our islands – and tourists encouraged by cheaper fares to visit Orkney in even greater numbers than they do today.

“We expect reduced fares to result in considerably more traffic on our external ferry routes, as they have on the West Coast of Scotland.

"The Minister’s commitment to provide parity with the West Coast routes and an overarching fares policy will benefit our community greatly.”

Meanwhile the privately run Pentland Ferries, which runs a rival service across the Pentland Firth from Gills Bay in Caithness and St Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay in Orkney, looks set to receive a Scottish Government subsidy for the first time.

Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said: “During my first visit to the Northern Isles as Transport Minister I committed to ensuring we would reduce ferry fares as soon as practically possible. It was a clear manifesto commitment and I’m very pleased we are now in a position to announce when that pledge will be delivered.

“These significant fare cuts will be rolled out in the first half of 2018. It is also our intention to include the commercial operators on the Pentland Firth in this scheme, and we will work with them to put a suitable system in place to allow that to happen.

“This reduction in fares will make ferry travel to and from the Northern Isles even more attractive for islanders and tourists. It also brings fares into line with those on the Clyde and Hebrides network, ensuring parity and supporting our aim of having one overarching fares policy across our ferry services.”