he U.K.’s Serco Group plc has been selected as preferred bidder to continue managing and operating the lifeline Northern Isles Ferry Services for passengers and freight between the Scottish mainland and the Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands, providing essential access and supplies for the islanders.
The outcome of the tender was announced by the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands to the Scottish Parliament on September 20.
There is currently a mandatory standstill period following the appointment decision. The new contract will ensure continuity of service, is anticipated to start in the fourth quarter and has a total estimated revenue value to Serco of approximately GBP 450 million (about $556 million) over the initial six-year term. There is an option for Scottish Ministers to extend the contract for a further two years, valued at a further GBP 160 million (about $198 million).
Serco says will build on the strengths and experience gained over the past seven years of operating the NorthLink Ferries franchise. Key features and improvements will include:
- continuing to undertake the planned maintenance and dry docking of the vessels in Scotland, to ensure strong levels of resilience with reduced time away from service;
- improvement of the terminal facilities at Hatston, Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, and enhanced passenger information systems at all the terminals;
- a new smart ticketing system for foot passengers;
- a new demand analysis and forecasting model to inform and improve accuracy and confidence in passenger and freight requirements; and
- a new “Green Travel” campaign aimed at customers and employees, together with a new carbon reduction strategy to reduce emissions.
Serco says that since it first began managing the service in 2012, all aspects have been improved in terms of customer satisfaction, reliability, safety and community support. Passenger numbers have increased by 18%, vehicle traffic by 38% and freight volumes by 24%. Reliability performance is 99.97%. Employment of people from the local communities has increased by 18%