New Forest District Council: Hythe – Southampton Passenger Ferry
NFDC has awarded the Hythe to Southampton passenger ferry a £15k grant to help this important community transport provider adversely affected by reduced passenger numbers due to Covid-19.
The Hythe to Southampton passenger ferry has run from 1887 and provides a regular service from the Hythe Pier to Town Quay, Southampton 7 days a week. It is regularly used by commuters and tourists.
The ferry provides a valuable service to residents of the District, particularly those who work in Southampton as it provides a quick service whilst also reducing the number of vehicle movements on the A326 and A35.
The County Council was approached by the Hythe Ferry owner regarding the Covid-19 situation and the impact on its business to seek financial support. As with all public transport operators, patronage levels dropped significantly when lockdown started, and in an attempt to protect their business they decided to mothball the service until we got back to some sort of normality. HCC no longer pays a revenue subsidy to Hythe ferry, the annual support was withdrawn in 2018/19 after a couple of years of higher payments to help the new owner invest in the business and make it more commercially viable. The only payment HCC now make is to cover the pontoon landing charges at Town Quay which is in the single figure and is the result of a historical legal agreement.
Local ferries have unfortunately not been able to benefit from the same level of public sector financial support as the bus industry who have benefitted from several sources of funding to keep their business afloat e.g. Concessionary fares re-imbursement at pre-Covid levels; local bus contracts paid at 100% of their value despite a significantly reduced service operating; lost revenue on commercial and subsidised services has been paid by DfT, plus other grants from DfT. Ferries were not included in any of these schemes which does not seem particularly equitable.
HCC approached NFDC and SCC to ask whether there would be support for a contribution of £15k each. HCC would administer the funding and ensure that there was mechanism in place to guarantee the contribution would be spent on delivering a ferry service. SCC has now confirmed that it will make a £15k contribution. The Ferry operator has shared a significant amount of data most significantly they have suffered losses of circa £49k due to Covid-19, and their annual passenger numbers are just under 200,000.
NFDC considers that the joint funding by the three authorities will give the ferry company short term cashflow to ensure that the service remains viable for a period whilst passenger numbers are lower than normal. At this stage no one is able to predict when numbers will return to a level that makes the service viable.
The Council currently are currently holding £21,136.62 in Hythe and Dibden as residual monies from completed projects it is proposed that £15K is used to support the ferry.
As these contributions are already held by the Council and the projects they are allocated to have either completed or no longer proceeding, there would be no direct cost to the Council.
£15,000 of transportation monies collected for use in Hythe are allocated to enhance the Hythe to Southampton ferry service.