O wners of the troubled Hayling Ferry insist it can ‘get bigger and better’ with investment – despite a recorded dip in its annual footfall.
The latest figures from the service show it has carried 4,982 fewer passengers in the past seven months than it did in same period – from August through February – after it was revived, in 2016.
But operators of the link – which served 48,069 people in its first year back connecting Hayling Island and Eastney – claim the fresh statistics are a fair and ‘true’ indication of its sustainable popularity.
It comes as campaigners and councillors fight to secure much-wanted bus links to the ferry’s two landing grounds, as well as thousands of pounds worth of subsidy cash from Hampshire County Council.
Tim Trayte, one half of Southsea-based Baker Trayte Marine – who bought the ferry after it was shut down in 2015 – said: ‘I think the numbers are so different because August, 2016 – the first month we reopened – was such a busy time for us, with fantastic summer weather.
‘This year’s latest figures are more true, but we will never know what the ferry is capable of until we get those buses in place.
‘I believe with that much-needed investment, the Hayling Ferry will get bigger and better.’
Mr Trayte’s reassurance comes after he and ferry campaigners have spent the past few months engaging in crisis talks over the service’s future – off the back of a turbulent few years.
Months after it was shut down in 2015, Hampshire County Council (HCC) ended its previous subsidy for the link – pledging not to invest again in the future – despite having offered up three decades of financial support.
And while it was revived to a rapturous reception after a community fundraising effort in August, 2016, those associated with the ferry maintain it is far from perfect in its current state.
But as its bosses fight to nail down buses and a Hampshire County Council subsidy, one thing the service continues to be is ‘vital’, say residents.
Dan Gardner, 40, from West Town on Hayling, catches the ferry to and from Portsmouth every day to get to his job as a computer science teacher at a city secondary school.
Reflecting on his own use of the service, he says: ‘I can either drive 16 miles to work just to park in an off-site car park, or I can cycle – using the ferry – shaving 10 miles off my journey.
‘I feel I’m doing the right thing by taking a car off the road, plus the trip is great for my mental health.
‘For people wanting to travel like me, the ferry is vital and I would miss it enormously if it disappeared.’
Reminiscent of a time when the ferry’s permanence was not questioned, Anne Skennerton – who heads the Hayling Island Residents’ Association – says some local people have even relocated with the service at the heart of their plans.
‘I know people who moved to Hayling from Portsmouth to avoid the hustle and bustle of the city, knowing full well they could easily return day-to-day on the ferry if they wanted,’ she said.
‘While it has fallen on hard times in recent years, it is obvious from the number of people who have used it since its return that there is a clear need for it.
‘That’s why it is so important a viable business plan is drawn up to cement its future.’
Despite already serving 21,848 passengers between last August and February – and just under 70,000 since its resurgence – ferry runners say finances are tight without the HCC subsidy they once had.
Impacting on this, says skipper Colin Hill, is the approximate £23,000 annual fee the link’s bosses had to pay the Langstone Harbour Board (LHB) to use their two landing grounds throughout the most recent tax year.
‘It is an awful lot of money,’ he said.
‘This is why it’s crucial we do what we can to try and get a council subsidy under our belts.’
Included in this is the ferry’s obligation to pay LHB 50p per passenger it carries in either direction, with rates reduced after the first 20,000 per year.
And while the negotiation of this sum is not at the forefront of discussions to sustain the ferry’s future – which continued at a meeting yesterday – it is one LHB member and Havant Borough councillor Andrew Lenaghan has defended.
He says: ‘Like many, I am wholeheartedly behind the Hayling Ferry succeeding.
‘But this rate is something that was agreed, and we as board members are assured it is proportionate.’
While the definite outcomes of bus and subsidy talks among councillors and operators are yet to be decided, skipper Mr Hill says they were at Wednesday’s meeting and are, on the whole, ‘positive’.
He explained councillors are in the process of exploring the possibility of a mainstream bus or minibus contract, linking the service to residential areas in Portsmouth and Hayling.
He added plans to apply for a subsidy are progressing.