SANDBANKS Ferry bosses have applied to increase tolls by up to 5.56 per cent – meaning car drivers could pay £4.75 instead of the current £4.50 per crossing.

This proposal, submitted to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, comes two years after a much higher price hike was rejected following a two-day public inquiry amid angry protests from passengers.

However, the latest application - of between five and 5.56 per cent ­ – represents a raise of less than half the rate of inflation since the last approved toll increase in February 2015, the ferry company says.

Prices outlined in a public notice published locally refer to increases to be implemented over a period of around a decade, a ferry company spokesman also told the Echo.

Meanwhile, bulk purchase ticket prices will remain frozen at current levels under the application – at least until 2021.

Sandbanks Ferry Company managing director Mike Kean said: “We have held detailed discussions over the past 12 months with local residents, councillors and MPs and have incorporated their feedback into the application proposals.

“These include increasing the discounts applied to bulk purchase of tickets and pledging not to pay dividends until the ferry replacement fund is at the required level in any given year.

“We are incredibly grateful for their time and input.”

The chain ferry service has enjoyed a relatively trouble free period in recent months, following a protracted 16-week outage which came to an end in October last year.

In December 2018, following a two-day public inquiry at Studland Village Hall, a government inspector ruled against the company’s proposed price hikes they had submitted at that time.

However, these suggested toll increases were significantly higher than the rise the Secretary of State is being asked to sign off on now.

The 2018 proposed hikes would have seen the £4.50 car toll rise to £6.

On the latest toll increase submissions, Mr Kean said: “Toll increases are a necessary part of the mix in ensuring that our vital service to local businesses, residents and tourists is maintained long into the future, and we look forward to the application progressing over the coming months.”

The Sandbanks Ferry Company has recently established a Community Liaison Group with representatives from the Studland, Swanage, Purbeck and Sandbanks communities and Councils. The Community Liaison Group will be a forum for the Ferry Company to inform them about the ferry’s ongoing performance and the Company’s future plans. Group members will be able to provide their feedback on these issues going forward. The Group held its first meeting on 10th January 2020 and a second meeting on 31st January 2020.

The Department for Transport and the Ferry Company will publish further details of the application consultation in due course.