Cars should be free

SPIRIT of Tasmania passengers should be able to take their cars on board for free, according to the state's peak tourism industry body.

This week  Infrastructure Minister Rene Hidding was unable to say when the promise to drive down average fares by as much as  20 per cent would be implemented.

Tourism Industry Council Tasmania chief executive Luke Martin said the quickest and most effective way for the government to achieve its goal would be to instruct TT-Line to abolish the $79 car fee each way, costing about $12 million. 

``The most practical way to drop the fares would be to restore the proposition of driving your car on to the ferry at no cost,'' Mr Martin said. 

The cost of bringing a vehicle on the ferry has increased for passengers as a Commonwealth-funded rebate has failed to keep pace with the real cost of travel.

Mr Martin urged the state government to lobby its counterparts in Canberra to increase the Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme rebate, which was introduced in 1996. 

It was originally set at the equivalent cost of an average vehicle travelling the same distance as Bass Strait on the National Highway network.

A TT-Line spokesman said the company constantly reviewed fares  and offered up to 12 special travel deals a year.  

The TICT renewed the call to waive fees for cars after the government rejected ferry operator TT-Line's proposal to run two freight-only ships. 

Instead, the new government wants TT-Line to refurbish the existing ships and offer extra day sailings to boost passenger numbers.  

Bringing a vehicle at no extra cost may make the traditionally less popular and financially unviable day sailings more attractive to potential visitors to the state, Mr Martin said. 

The decision to ditch the freight-only ships proposal has disappointed the tourism industry and exporters. 

 The Examiner  understands that the previous Labor government was just weeks away from giving TT-Line the go-ahead, after months of delays caused by a split in cabinet. 

TT-Line's detailed ``Project Bass Strait'' proposal involved leasing two smaller freight-only ships that  would have dealt with predicted increases in demand from farmers and freed up space on the existing ships. 

Proponents of the plan, expected to cost roughly $80 million, argued that  it would have catered towards predicted increased demand from farmers and encouraged investment in the state's fresh produce market.

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