THE Balearic government hopes that its ambitious master plan for transport, which was unveiled on Friday, will improve sea links to the extent that the islands will be linked to one another in just two and a half hours.
The plan puts forward four conditions to make the sea service an alternative to air travel.
It says that in order for the maritime service to be competitive it must link the chief cities, from centre to centre, in just two and a half hours.
This target is already being reached on the Palma-Ibiza run and in the connections between the north of Majorca and Minorca, thanks to high speed boats.
The plan rules that in order to be competitive, the maritime link between the chief cities of the islands should make it possible to make the return trip on the same day, leaving sufficient time for travellers to handle their business matters.
And as the cost structure of shipping is considerably more advantageous than that of planes, the plan says that it can offer lower fares.
The plan considers that it is important for the services offered at the ferry terminals to be of quality and proposes diversifying the offer.
This will include providing better amenities for passengers waiting for the ferry, such as restaurant, bar and shops, and a service for travellers which would include tourism information, hotel booking and car hire facilities. There would also be a fast and efficient check-in service and separate accesses for passengers and vehicles.
The transport plan proposes at least two ferries a day between Majorca and Ibiza, with departures at about 8am and arrival at 10.30am, the return trip leaving at 7pm and arriving at 9.30pm. This means that the existing services would have to be changed.
During the low season, the government proposes using smaller ferries, with no capacity for cars, and a change in times.
For the Majorca-Minorca route, the plan suggests three frequencies a day in each direction, with departures at 8, 9am, 2, 3, 7 and 8pm. At the same time, the bus service between Cala Rajada-Alcudia and Palma should coincide with the arrival of the ferries.
The plan does not rule out a direct connection between Palma and Mahon, with a high-speed ship. The final objective would be a sea link between Ibiza and Minorca in less than six hours.
The plan proposes covering the entire archipelago by land and sea, with its Balearic Route, covering La Savina-Ibiza/Sant Antoni-Palma-Alcudia/Cala Rajada-Ciutadella-Mahon.
Tourists would be able to take the route on an open ticket which would even allow air travel for part of the journey. l Palma-Barcelona: this route was used by more than half a million passengers in 1999 because of the introduction of fas ferries, according to the plan. l Palma-Ibiza: this route carried 159'000 passengers in 2002 compared to 25'075 in 1997, that is, the route has grown 534 percent in just five years. l Occupancy: the occupancy rates on most of the ferries are low, except for the Ibiza-Formentera line, which is more than 30 percent full. l Excess offer: the transport plan warns that the low rate of occupancy on the Ibiza-Palma route (only 9 percent) is due to the excess offer. Three companies cover the service. l Fares: the transport plan points out that the average price of a ferry ticket between the islands is 30 euros, compared to 48 euros for a plane ticket. l Route: the plan proposes a Balearic Route which would enable travellers visit Majorca, Ibiza and Minorca on an open ticket.