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Eurotunnel Cuts Fares, But Ferries Still Cheaper

May 29, 1996

LONDON (AP) _ Operators of the Channel Tunnel slashed prices for passenger cars on their ``Le Shuttle″ trains Wednesday as part of a stepped up effort to lure customers away from ferry companies.

Eurotunnel is seeking more customers as works toward restructuring punishing debts that pushed it into default on some 8 billion pounds ($12 billion) in bank loans last September.

Besides the fare cuts, Eurotunnel will offer frequent-traveler points, priority boarding for high-paying business travelers and a new free newspaper with travel information.

But ferry operators seemed unimpressed by the latest Eurotunnel attempt to boost business, saying the fare cut still would not beat prices on most ferry tickets.

Ferry operators have long said their boats with restaurants, bars and onboard shopping are more attractive than the stark Le Shuttle boxcars, which touts journeys that are about 40 minutes faster.

``This is nothing to get excited about,″ said Nicola McShane, spokeswoman for P&O European Ferries, the biggest ferry operator on the English Channel.

The Eurotunnel cuts, which go into effect between June 1 to Aug. 31, are part of a plan to streamline a complicated fare structure where prices varied widely _ depending on ticket class and travel period.

Under the new structure, there will just be six classes of tickets in two time bands.

Travelers putting their cars on ``Le Shuttle″ trains from Folkestone, England, to Calais, France, will see prices drop as low as 49 pounds ($73.50) for a return day trip, down from 75 pounds ($112.50).

P&O lets customers take return day trips for 15 pounds ($22.50) per car, plus a supplement of 1 pound ($1.50) per passenger _ or 19 pounds ($28.50) for a family of four.

Eurotunnel said travelers can pay 129 pounds ($193.50) for a regular round-trip economy ticket, during peak hours, down from 266 pounds ($399).

Ferry companies publish fares ranging as high as 339 pounds ($509) for such a ticket, but P&O said it usually matches competing fares _ whether by Eurotunnel or another ferry operator.

Stena Line, another ferry operator, said it would match any prices offered by Eurotunnel.

Eurotunnel spokesman Dominic Fry played down the claims of cheaper prices on the ferries.

``They’re welcome to say what they like,″ Fry said. ``We’re speaking from a position of market leadership. We’ve got 40 percent to 45 percent of the market and we’re setting the prices we think are right for the summer.″

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