DISCOUNTED cross-Solent travel for residents on low incomes has been launched by the Isle of Wight Council.

Residents receiving housing benefit and / or council tax support will be eligible for the discounted ferry fares. As many as 14,000 people will qualify for support.

The initiative has been developed by the Isle of Wight Council with ferry companies Wightlink, Red Funnel and Hovertravel – via the Island’s Transport Infrastructure Board.

Each ferry operator has its own fixed-priced discount, covering foot passengers, cars and motorbikes, with details of prices available on their respective websites.

Applicants should register with the ferry company they wish to travel with, via their website, and the council will automatically assess their eligibility.

If approved they will receive a dedicated customer account and ID code and the discount will then be applied automatically each time they book. This has to be done seven working days before travel.

Those wishing to travel with Hovertravel can buy a discounted ticket at the Ryde terminal by showing a copy of their current council tax bill with evidence of local council tax support — or a copy of their current benefit notification letter together with their photo ID.

Council leader, Councillor Dave Stewart, said: "It’s absolutely vital that all residents on the Island have the ability to travel to the mainland when they need to, and we welcome these excellent steps that have been put in place by Wightlink, Red Funnel and Hovertravel to make this possible.

"We have been looking at a range of ways to support Islanders through the work of our Transport Infrastructure Board, and are delighted this has now borne fruit.

"This initiative also supports the work of our MP Bob Seely, who continues to highlight the unique challenges Islanders face with cross-Solent travel."

Wightlink chief executive, Keith Greenfield, said: "We want to make sure low-income families have every opportunity to travel to the mainland for work, leisure and any other reason.

"We have worked closely with the Isle of Wight Council on this and are pleased that the discount travel scheme has now been launched."

Red Funnel chief executive, Fran Collins, said: "We are delighted to offer fixed price fares to low income households on the Island."

Hovertravel managing director, Neil Chapman, said: "We are passionate about supporting our local communities and we recognise that low income households struggle to pay for transport.

"Offering a fixed price discount to help families and other residents for journeys to the mainland is a positive step towards helping more people."

UPDATED 1.20pm

Isle of Wight MP Bob Seely said he welcomed the announcement, but it did not address the broader issues of an Island duopoly.

He said: “It goes some way to address issues of affordability for those who, at present, find it a struggle to afford to use the ferries.

“I thank the Island’s council and the ferry companies for coming together to set up this scheme.

“I would also like to thank Christopher Garnet and the Transport Infrastructure Board for their key work. They, the council and I have been working together. Our message to the ferries has been that we need deeds, and not just warm words, to show that they are on the side of Islanders.

“This is also the first proof of what I hope will be a better relationship between the ferry firms and the Island going forward. All of us representing Islanders will continue to work in a united way to find ways to encourage and enable the ferries to serve Islanders better.

“Today’s announcement, however, doesn’t address broader issues around fair ferry prices. I will continue to make the case that Islanders are being unfairly treated by what is effectively a duopoly.”

UPDATED 2.15pm

Island Labour Chair, Julian Critchley, welcomed the announcement, and said:"We're pleased that the ferry companies have responded to pressure to reduce the costs of travel for some Island families.

"This is, however, addressing some symptoms rather than curing the problem.

"I don't believe that access to the mainland should be a matter for two private companies to decide who to favour with reduced fares.

"The Labour campaign is to assert the right of all islanders, as British citizens, to be able to access the rest of our country without having to pay private companies for the privilege.

"Ultimately, the only way to resolve this issue is to impose a public duty to serve all Islanders on the ferries, either through regulation or public ownership."

UPDATED Wednesday 9am

Parliamentary candidate for the Isle of Wight Green party, Vix Lowthion, said:"The outrage from ordinary working islanders at the announcement of discounted ferry tickets for those on benefits should come as no surprise.

"Whilst it is very welcome that the ferry companies and council have reached an agreement to support the most vulnerable islanders, it is a reminder of how utterly unaffordable ferry tickets are for the low wage earners which make up the majority of those of us who live here.

"Are we are expected to all be overjoyed at receiving crumbs from the table of the private ferry companies? Did the council not foresee how angry and isolated this makes the rest of the community feel who don't earn much and don't qualify?

"Increasingly, this council and our MP behave completely out of touch with ordinary islanders. Instead, they should be lobbying government for regulation, subsidies and legislation which put the needs of islanders *first* when it comes to cross Solent transport."