In the week that saw more than 3,000 people sign a petition to encourage Wightlink to bring back late night sailings on the Ryde to Portsmouth FastCats, we asked the ferry operator for a response.

Regular passenger Harriet Hadfield launched the petition on Sunday and has had a lot of support from frustrated Islanders, who feel the last crossing from Portsmouth being as early as 8.20pm represents a curfew on Island life.

We asked Wightlink why they had scrapped the later crossings and if they would consider bringing them back.

Keith Greenfield, Wightlink CEO, gave us a lengthy response, which is in full here:

Why Wightlink is saying no to later evening sailings

I completely understand that people want FastCat services to run later in the evenings. At Wightlink we want to run as many services as we can and we have two foot passenger catamarans which we would like to be using all of the time.   

In 2019 we ran a trial of FastCats running through the night and in 2020 also planned to launch a summer three-boat service on our Yarmouth to Lymington route which had to be cancelled due to Covid-19. So we are very committed to growing all of our services when it’s viable to do so. Having just spent over £1.5million on refurbishments for our Portsmouth Harbour Terminal earlier this year, we definitely want to see more sailings and more customers on our FastCat service. 

Commuters have always been the mainstay of the Ryde Pier-Portsmouth Harbour FastCats. In line with the rail industry, there are still 40 per cent fewer foot passengers travelling on the route at ‘rush-hours’ and, overall, 32 per cent fewer on all services. By contrast, vehicle traffic returned to pre-Covid levels this summer. 

Unlike the rail industry, Wightlink relies entirely on ticket income and not on taxpayer funding; this means our services have to pay their way. Our FastCat crews’ working hours are fully used to maintain the current timetable and to extend into the evening we would need to hire two additional crews and shore staff for what we know would be relatively few additional passengers each day at present.  Although this is a point that I’m sure will be contested, we have detailed knowledge of travel patterns and study them closely. 

We have looked at other options to extend the timetable in the evenings such as starting later, such as removing the first one or two sailings, the 0545 and 0645 from Ryde. We believe these to be lifeline commuter services so we rejected this option, but I would be happy to hear if public opinion disagrees. Another option would be to create another two-hour gap in the afternoon so we would be able to cover one additional evening sailing. Again our feeling was that this option would not be acceptable. If public opinion says otherwise, we would be happy to look again at that option. 

Wightlink is working hard to build tourism on the route to compensate for the fall in foot passengers since Covid. We want to get to a point where FastCats run later and more frequently and examine trends every week for signs that we can run extra services. I can promise we are looking at all the options and additional services will be added as soon as we are confident of sustainable passenger numbers. 

We do have a round-the-clock car ferry service just a few minutes’ walk from Portsmouth Harbour train station. There are sailings at 22:15 and 23:59 and the 23:59 is served on arrival at Fishbourne by a Southern Vectis bus that takes passengers to Ryde. I know it’s not quite so convenient, but it is a way to get home after a night out. We also have car parking at Fishbourne for foot passengers to use the car ferry both ways. FastCat tickets and season tickets are always accepted on our car ferry. 

Everyone wants to see more FastCats and later ones, no-one more than me.  

Harriet's petition can be found at