NEW ticketing measures are being introduced on the Strangford Ferry.
The news was welcomed by South Down MLA Chris Hazzard and Downpatrick area Election Candidate Naomi Bailie who said the new system will help make purchasing tickets easier and more accessible for locals and visitors.
The new Smartcard system will replace the existing paper discount vouchers which are expected to be totally phased out by 2015.
Ms Bailie said: “A smartcard system will eventually take over from the old paper tickets. However, locals should note that the voucher tickets can still be used well into 2015 to give people time to adapt to the new system. Smartcard top-up facilities will be made available at local shops in both Strangford and Portaferry which is a sensible addition to the current system which only allows for purchases to be made at a handful of outlets, some with restricted opening hours and others as far away as Downpatrick.
“The online ticket payment and ordering system has been withdrawn from the end of December so anyone looking to purchase tickets at present can only do so through the usual Strangford Ticket office, the Supershop in Portaferry or Rathkeltair House in Downpatrick. This will be inconvenient for some ferry users who previously used the online facility, but given the imminent introduction of the Smartcards, the need for such a provision will diminish and as more local outlets will be able to offer ticket provision.
“These changes will help to modernise and streamline the ferry service and I hope will be welcomed by users, particularly those using the ferry to commute to schools or work.
Chris Hazzard, South Down MLA, added that the Strangford Ferry provides a vital service for local people travelling to and from the Upper Ards area and into East Down but more could be done by the Department to ensure it delivered community benefits.
“The new Strangford ferry vessel is due to begin operating in spring 2016. I wrote to the DRD Minister some weeks ago and requested that Social Clauses are used during the procurement process to ensure that the construction and delivery of the ferry is through local companies which employ local people.
“The Minister is currently considering if this is an option and I am hopeful that some benefits can be reaped by the local community during this process.”