Devon

Brixham Express ferry passengers cost £170 each

Ferry
Image caption Each passenger on the Pride of Exmouth which started the service in 2014 cost £170 in subsidies

Each passenger on a "green" commuter ferry service cost taxpayers more than £170 in subsidies, it has emerged.

A total of 3,186 passengers used the service between Brixham and Torquay in Devon from when it started in December 2014 to April last year.

During that time, the Brixham Express company received £544,000 in subsidies from Torbay Council.

The authority said the payments, which have since stopped, were in line with the firm's contract.

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Figures released to the BBC following Freedom of Information requests show a cost per passenger journey of £171, based on the total subsidies paid by Torbay Council in January and April 2015.

Steve Darling, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Torbay Council, said: "It's extremely disturbing, they might as well have given them a stretch limo with champagne on ice between Brixham and Torquay."

Image caption The 35-seat Brixham Vitesse is running between Brixham and Torquay instead of the promised catamaran

The Conservative-controlled council said it stopped the subsidies last April because the firm started using smaller vessels which did not comply with its contract.

When Brixham Express won the contract in 2014 as part of Torbay Council's green travel plan, it promised a catamaran. but it has not arrived yet.

The firm has blamed delays in getting a safety certificate.

The service started with a number of large hired vessels including the Pride of Exmouth, but since last April it has been using small fishing boats with a maximum capacity of 35.

A council spokesman said: "Post-April 2015 no subsidy has been paid to the company, as they have not been able to comply with the vessel specification contained within the contract."

Image caption The catamaran that was promised at the start of the service has been delayed

The Department for Transport (DfT) said the subsidies came via the council from the government's Local Sustainable Transport Fund.

A DfT spokesman said: "Since 2011, we have provided £600m to transport projects across England to improve journeys for local people. It is for the relevant local authorities to make sure these projects are delivered."

No-one from the ferry firm was available for comment but Brixham Express skipper John Ford said: "With the new fast ferry still not on site people have lost faith in the whole situation which is totally understandable.

"But this has never been tried before in Torquay and we're going to do our utmost to make it work."

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