Ferry charged emergency services more than £20k in two years, data show

Sandbanks Ferry waits at port to help accommodate emergency services on callouts
Sandbanks Ferry waits at port to help accommodate emergency services on callouts - BNPS

A Dorset-based ferry operator has been criticised for charging ambulance and fire crews to use its services.

Sandbanks Ferry, which carries cars and passengers across Poole Harbour and between the peninsula and Studland, has accrued around £20,000 in fees from emergency services since 2022, data shows.

The short crossing cuts down journey times to the Isle of Purbeck by around 45 minutes.

The nearest hospital to Swanage, the largest town on Purbeck, is 20 miles away in Poole.

However, by using the ferry, the journey is 12 miles, making this service indispensable for many in case of emergencies.

Police do not have to pay because of an obscure law dating back to 1923, the operators of the ferry said.

A Freedom of Information request submitted by a member of the public to the ferry operator shows the South Western Ambulance Service spent £8,825 in fares between April and December of last year alone.

In the previous financial year of 2022/2023, the ambulance service spent a total of £12,774, incurring a fee of £5.10 per crossing, according to the tolls.

Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS) spent a total of £4,261 on the ferry over the past five years.

The Sandbanks ferry can cut almost an hour off the journey between the hospital at Bournemouth and Swanage
The Sandbanks ferry can cut almost an hour off the journey between the hospital at Bournemouth and Swanage - BNPS

Philip Eades, the Swanage resident who obtained the data, said: “It seems incredible that the Sandbanks Ferry Company would charge any of the emergency services for the work they do in protecting the residents of and visitors to the Isle of Purbeck.

“The ambulance service is being charged for taking people from here to hospital because we’ve only got a little hospital here.

“Given the levels of profit made by the ferry company over the years, I would call on the management to refund the fire and the ambulance services and not charge any of the emergency services in future.”

He added: “People are shocked. I’m sure that nobody knew they were being charged.”

Eades explains the public is very confused by these figures and cannot come to terms with the extraordinary policy.

Profiting from lifesavers

Jane Tavinor, another resident, said: “The crossings should be free as a gesture of goodwill as this company holds us to ransom being the only way to avoid a lengthy drive around and delays accessing A&E at Bournemouth and fire engines coming to help. These are life savers and a private company is profiting.”

Damien Bence, Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service’s area manager, said: “Due to the geography and location of our fire stations, it can sometimes be a more effective approach to utilise the ferry to provide quicker access for our appliances.

“The Sandbanks Ferry supports this response by working with our service control centre to ensure the ferry is held at the relevant access point.”

Last week, the operators of the Sandbanks Ferry Company warned it would have to raise its tolls to stay in business.

The ferry company is requesting the Department for Transport for permission to replace it with annual increases based on the Consumer Prices Index (CPI).

The change would mean car fares initially increasing from £5.20 to £5.97, and there would be no difference with emergency services.

Sandbanks Ferry has not commented on the findings.

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