CalMac’s problems seem to intensify with more calls for their routes to be given to private companies when the current contract ends in September 2024, with the Chairman of Western Ferries has joined islanders in calling for an overhaul of current arrangements.
Over the past couple of weeks various ferries have suffered breakdowns including Finlaggan, (Kennacraig-Port Ellen and Port Askaig, Islay), which was out of service for three days after returning from a month’s dry-docking, Loch Frisa (Oban-Craignure) after issues with its sprinkler system, and Chieftain on the Gourock-Kilcreggan route.
Currently Loch Alainn (Barra-Eriksay) has been replaced by Loch Bhrusda, which has a reduced capacity with the result that some bookings have been cancelled, due to a technical issue.
Ironically problems with the new £18 million hi-tech ticket system have resulted in an easing the artificial limit to the number of vehicles carried on the Skye triangle ferry route. Due to the mistake increased traffic is delivering a much welcomed boost for the local economy following a period of ferry outages.
Hundreds more people have travelled to Harris and North Uist because the portable moving platform is currently being deployed much more than intended.
However any reprieve will be short lived as CalMac appears determined to take away the extra spaces as soon as possible. It is understood Transport Scotland is not proving any additional funding for the present temporary overbooking and the use of the mezzanine deck.
Curbs on the mezzanine deck were introduced last year due to its ‘cumbersome and slow’ operation, which creates departure delays and ‘often requiring later sailings to be cancelled’ to ensure that crews get the required number of hours of rest. CalMac is believed to bearing the extra costs incurred.
Using CalMac’s own figures, Harris Development Ltd (HDL) calculates nearly 10,000 fewer vehicles were carried on the Skye triangle route last summer compared to 2019 with the lost revenue income to the islands’ economy hitting around the £10 million mark.
Kenny Macleod, chair of HDL, wants the mezzanine deck to remain in full use over the summer. He highlights the overbooking error demonstrates strong demand from passengers for full capacity on the Skye triangle route ‘contrary to suggestions from CalMac that the reason for reducing available capacity was a lack of demand.’
Artificially reducing the available capacity of the vessel on the majority of sailings, is ‘so ludicrous that any operator would decide to reduce how much income it could generate at the busiest time of the year.’
He added: ‘An efficient and regular ferry service is essential to those of us living on the islands and it is important that any vessel provided is used to its maximum capacity to meet the clear demands, especially over the summer months’.
Report by Iain McGeachy