Drivers pay double for ferry crossings

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The Independent Online
FERRY companies have doubled their Channel crossing prices in real terms over the past eight years in anticipation of losing business because of the Channel tunnel, according to research published today, writes Christian Wolmar.

The study, by the Imperial College Management School, London, suggests that 'the ferry companies appear to have made hay by doubling published prices for car journeys in real terms' since 1985.

The survey covers brochure prices on the key Dover-Calais route operated by Stena Sealink and P & O. Last year it was used by 16 million passengers with 2.4 million cars.

It suggests that, at 1982 prices, the cost of a single journey for an average-size car travelling on the most expensive tariff at peak times increased from pounds 44.10 to pounds 80.76 on P & O. It rose from pounds 42.50 to pounds 80.76 on Stena Sealink. Other tariffs showed similar rises, with the second most expensive showing the sharpest - from pounds 36.88 to pounds 74.30. Overall, the average rise is nine percentage points a year above the inflation rate.

According to a P & 0 spokesman, Ian Todd, the rises are similar because the market 'is very sensitive to price and if our fares were much higher than our rivals' we would lose a very large proportion of market share'.

Sealink's recently published 1994 brochures have prices that are almost identical to those of P & O. In January, Eurotunnel will announce its prices for Channel Tunnel trips, which will begin in May.

Stefan Szymanski, author of the report, says his figures show that, in the eight years before the tunnel project was announced in 1985, real fare levels were static. The report suggests that P & O's profits on its passenger and vehicle traffic have increased from pounds 7.7m in 1986 to pounds 14.3m in 1991 at 1982 prices.

Under an agreement with the Office of Fair Trading, the two companies are barred from joint operations or discussing fares. Their requests to be released from the agreement so as to run joint operations to rival the Channel tunnel have been rejected.

Both companies argue that they run many cheap offers. A spokesman for P & O said: 'We are confident most people are paying less in real terms than they were five years ago.'

The Office of Fair Trading said it was studying the report and it was too early to comment.

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