The Steam Packet Company is promising to invest £170m in new ships, port facilities and fare reductions.
Unveiling its vision for the future of sea services, the ferry operator’s chief executive Mark Woodward also pledged increased year-round passenger capacity, more special offers and a new frequent traveller scheme.
He said the company will invest in two new vessels and will commit to retaining Ben-my-Chree to provide comprehensive passenger and freight back-up to the fleet.
Late last year Manx Government announced it was considering the future of strategic sea services for the island. The current user agreement is due to end in 2026 and the Steam Packet has now outlined its vision for continuing to provide services beyond that date.
Details were presented to members of Tynwald this morning and a printed copy is to be delivered to homes and businesses island-wide.
It is hoped the offer can be taken to July Tynwald for debate.
Mr Woodward said the earlier a decision is made, the sooner investment can begin and residents, visitors and businesses start to benefit.
He said: ‘We are not just a company which serves the Isle of Man; we are part of the Manx community. Our management team lives and works here, we employ more than 300 Isle of Man residents and we spend significant sums in the local economy. As part of the Isle of Man, our interests are fully vested in what is best for our island.
‘Since the start of the user agreement there has been major private investment in vessels, much lower fares (halved in real terms) with improved offers and availability, and significant marketing each year to promote the Isle of Man.
‘We want to consolidate these benefits and provide a platform for further investment and improvements in service delivery for another generation. If a new Strategic Sea Services Agreement, to guarantee services beyond 2026, can be reached this year we will bring forward our planned investment.’
If an agreement is made this year, the Steam Packet is committed to delivering a replacement for Ben-my-Chree by 2019/21 and Manannan by 2022/23 as part of £170m investment.
MV Arrow would be retained as freight back-up until Ben-my-Chree is replaced, after which time the Ben would become the permanent third vessel. This gives the fleet comprehensive passenger and freight back-up, as well as additional capacity and self-sufficiency during the TT and Festival of Motorcycling, said Mr Woodward.
Passenger and freight capacity would be increased year-round to meet the needs of a growing population and there is also a guarantee that more special offer seats are available each year.
A new frequent traveller scheme would be introduced and is expected to benefit 10 times more passengers than the previous scheme which was discontinued some years ago.
There would also be an agreement for the Steam Packet to share extra revenue growth, above an agreed threshold, to fund additional low fare and marketing initiatives. This would mean that a proportion of profits would be ring-fenced and used to target specific potential growth areas of the visitor economy or other initiatives aimed at growing passenger numbers.
The offer also includes the retention of the Manx RPI cap on standard fare increases, a commitment to formal service reviews every three years and a promise to publish Irish Sea fare comparisons every year.
Mr Woodward added: ‘Unlike some ferry firms servicing island communities, the Steam Packet Company does not and will not require any government subsidy. We meet the costs of delivering our services ourselves. We will do this while providing guaranteed standards and levels of service and it is we, not the government or Manx public, that take all the commercial downside risk of doing this.
‘We look forward to further discussions with the Isle of Man Government and the Manx public about the future of island sea services.’