Argyll Ferries welcomes inclusion in Cabinet Secretary’s talks in Dunoon

Cabinet Secretary, Alex Neil, whose brief includes transport, was in Dunoon today for a series of three meetings, all centred on the issue of the state’s passenger ferry service between the town and the Gourock railhead in Inverclyde.

Argyll Ferries was present at two of these meetings and an Argyll Ferries spokesman said tonight:

‘We were pleased to be included in today’s meetings and contribute to the discussions about the ferry service.

‘We were also pleased that the significant improvement to technical reliability achieved following the refits was recognised by the Minister and those present.

‘We remain committed to improving the service further, in particular to working with partners to develop the berthing and passenger facilities at both Gourock and Dunoon. ‘

Local rumours from the meetings, which did not include the press, have been indicating that the possible replacement of the MV Ali Cat – the catamaran hulled boat providing part of the two-boat service on the Gourock-Dunoon route. Ali Cat is notably skittish in stronger winds. Argyll Ferries did not wish to comment on this.

For Argyll has said from the outset and maintains its posiiton, that the fast passenger shuttle service between Dunoon and the Gourock railhead – wioth 60 crossings a day – is the correct service to complement Western Ferries short vehicle and passenger shuttle between the outskirts of the two towns. Alongside this, we have maintained that the MV Ali Cat should be replaced and that the boats require the pontoon berthings at either end for which they were designed.

Stern berthing at both linkspans is a cumbersome business. Being beyond the design spec of the boats., the manoeuvres required to align stern and linkspan are so tortuous that the very sight of then undermines public confidence.

And good, attractive shoreside facilities are imperative if this service is to be part of a sustained marketing campaign, once the town gets itself into the shape required to support such potential interest.

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23 Responses to Argyll Ferries welcomes inclusion in Cabinet Secretary’s talks in Dunoon

  1. I also read that the government are going to look at the possibility and viability of vehicular ships on the route. Not being a business man, I can only guess that this group will have to decide if these larger ships can be financially viable, given that there is no core business for any company to start with, and they would have to presumably budget for making a loss for months/years, until they can get enough traffic to make a go of it. Yes, the years old report say it is viable, but surely that is only if there is adequate traffic to make this possible?

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  2. What? Don’t be silly. Unbelievably the vehicle service that ended in June was making a profit despite the sailing restrictions. Why would it take years to build up business?
    As soon as your current tickets ran out you would buy a book for the service that suited you, so it would take at most a fortnight for regular users to swap if they wanted to. As long as the service was unrestricted a lot of people would opt for the CalMac route because it cuts out the Gourock jams and is a shorter drive to Glasgow. Didn’t Blacks Transport stop using the ferries altogether when CalMac ended, choosing to drive round instead, that must mean Western are a lot more expensive for haulage than CalMac. Presumably they would return to the route like a shot if it restarted. Also if haulage is more expensive on Western we must be paying for it in cost of goods.

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    • Ferryman: your comment about the car service making money. Is this before or after the £3.4M a year subsidy it was getting? Car users didn’t use it because it’s actually more expensive than WF and took longer.So pleased the subsidy is only £1.4M now but Ali Cat needs to be pensioned off and the berthing at both ends is absolutely shocking and needs to be addressed. Blame both ICC and Argyll and Bute for this.

      There will be no car service returning unless the lotto winners in Largs take a fancy to blowing their winnings providing it as there is no business case without a subsidy. That would be in direct competition with WF who would be within their rights to sue the government and would not have to try very hard to bankrupt any new service as theirs is efficient and SHORT so fuel costs would be about half.

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      • I am no accountant but looking at Cowal Ferries financial report to 31/March/2011 all the “deficit grant” paid by the Scottish Government was burnt up by the passenger service.

        It seems clear that if CalMac had run the service without a restricted timetable the profit on the vehicle service would have been much much bigger.

        I am not sure why dunoon lad thinks it would take time for a vehicle service to build up customers, I wish he would explain rather than simply repeating it. Granted Dunoon Gourock has been wiped off the CAlMac tourist map but local trade would pick up in short order.

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  3. For Argyll is really out of kilter with the majority of the people of the Cowal Peninsula – particularly those that have to travel to work or study on the otherside. The ferries are off far too frequently for bad weather losing people wages and and lectures. I can only assume that For Argyll is the spokesperson for our incumbent MSP who seems to care little in reality for his voters, though he talks a good talk sometimes. For Argyll has no interest in publishing anything that is even vaguely representative or even truthful.
    Why dont you shut up shop and disappear up your proverbial ********** before you do any more damage to the local economy by your rantings.

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  4. forArgyll wrote;
    “And good, attractive shoreside facilities are imperative if this service is to be part of a sustained marketing campaign”

    The old streakers provided a pleasant tourist experience, and they were reliable. The passenger only service is grim, unreliable and has all but disappeared from marketing literature – can’t blame CalMac for not wanting to be associated with it.

    Tarting up the shore facilities, which were degraded when the new service was introduced, and sticking in pontoons (at whose expense and how much?) is not going to change the fact that neither of the current ferries can cope with the sea conditions.

    This service was designed to fail, it just failed sooner than the designers expected. The “use it or lose” mantra was chanted right from the start.

    Reliable, frequent, vehicle ferries are what people want.

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    • I can understand the comment that ‘the old streakers provided a pleasant tourist experience’ but I cannot for the life of me understand anyone thinking that clunky, awkward gangways and steep stairs are acceptable.
      ‘Good, attractive shoreside facilities’ are indeed essential, pontoons are the universal answer to civilised access to boats on tidal waters, and aren’t some sort of luxury extra. I can’t believe that some folk just don’t know what a decent ferry service – unless they’re in a car – is all about.

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  5. There are two types of people here: car users and foot passengers. For car users you can forget talking about us. We have an excellent reliable and frequent service with western ferries.

    Foot passengers though: both ICC and A&B councils have failed to provide berthing facilties at either end suitable for passenger ferries. That’s the first part of the scandal. The second is the woefull inability of the Ali Cat to cope with the tidal conditions. Why has it taken the loss of the vehicle service for people to wake up to this? She’s been running the route for years and has been hated yet only now are people making their voices heard.

    If these issues cannot be resolved then a town centre to town centre bus service through WF is the answer and would not cost anywhere near the £1.4M a year this inadequate service provides.

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    • That’s a radical and practical suggestion – very left field, liberating and refocusing an entire argument.

      Western’s sailing frequency would facilitate this idea. Bus schedules could be linked to priority bookings so that the bus always got on to the necessary ferry.

      Very interesting.

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      • Why not take a bus all the way round? Could it be time?

        Cost, travel time and frequency are not too important to casual users but they are critical to people who use services on a daily basis.

        Taking buses adds too much time to be practical, it will add an hour a day to a journey to Glasgow. Some people who commute by car will also be finding the new arrangements a strain because of increased travel time and distances.

        This change will result in commuters moving if they can, and they are unlikely to be replaced. This is going to impact house prices etc. It will not happen overnight but it will happen.

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    • If you are happy with the Western service that is fine, I can only presume though that you are a casual rather than daily user.

      I am not sure why you blame the councils for the berthing arrangements. Don’t CalMac own the facilities in Gourock? Also since Argyll Ferries tendered to use the facilities on both sides as they are should they not be bearing the costs of any improvements they need to make?

      Those that used the Ali Cat were well aware of it limitations. Many foot passengers did not use the Ali Cat though and so were unaware of what was facing them. Neither the Ali Cat nor the Argyll Flyer can provide a reliable service.

      I’ll take another look at the figures regarding the streakers but my understanding is that the government was not allowed to subsidise the vehicle service, that is what all the EU fuss was about. That is also why the accounts split out the passenger service clearly shown to make a loss from the vehicle service clearly shown to make a profit.

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  6. To team nipper – you say that a vehicle service is a non starter without a proper subsidy. Your statement surely goes against the expert views of Neil Kay and the others who have been providing the public with information that supports a return of a vehicular service. I tend to agree with you, and that a new service would have to run at a loss until they had enough Traffic to sustain the service and running costs. The waters appear to be getting more muddy as the months go by! I see that the “feasibility” study into a vehicular service is going to take months to provide a report on this, and possibly not this year. Will this postpone the provision of suitable pontoons and waiting rooms at both ports? Hopefully this will not be the case.

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    • I am suspicious of the need for a feasability study.
      Why did they not do a study before putting the service out to tender?

      The bottom line is very simple; boats of the size of Ali Cat and Argyll Flyer are simply too small to provide a regular service, and a regular service is needed on a commutter route. Once you decide you need bigger boats there is no choice but to make them vehicle carrying.

      There is plenty of traffic to support two vehicle services, and look what heppened where RET was introduced – traffic volumes went up substantially.

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      • ‘..there is no choice but to make them vehicle carrying’ – this sounds fair enough, but there are passenger-only ferries being successfully operated elsewhere in the world, in what could be similar sea conditions. And maybe it doesn’t factor in the capital costs of providing fit-for purpose termini – weather protected stepless passenger access, and a short, sheltered walk to and from the train (preferably cross-platform). And don’t forget, as soon as a vehicle ferry service is introduced it has to be subsidy-free, whereas a passenger ferry is a public service and deserves subsidy on the same basis as train services. It doesn’t look to me as if a ferry docking at the Gourock vehicle ramp cuts the mustard – unless the station is shifted closer to the Calmac facilities. Could Team Nipper’s suggestion of a town centre to town centre bus service via WF be the most cost-effective (and convenient) solution?

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  7. To Ferryman – surely if a ferry company (or any other company) were looking at setting up a new business, they would have to make a business plan prior to submitting a tender document? A new business surely would have to allow a period for traffic to build up (or otherwise) this tender would have to set fares also. As someone else has already suggested, what if Western were to slash their fares, or have a loyalty scheme etc, with reduced tarrifs, how long could a new company survive having to reduce their fares to compete? Remember Western have a route half as long as the town centre one, and no pier dues to pay! I’m no expert, but there were only a few hundred people at the last Queen’s Hall public meeting. Not exactly a landslide number from an approximate population of 8.000 to 10.000! Where were all the vehicle drivers who were revving up desperate to use the town centre route – no demonstrations etc. You, and others are possibly correct in saying that it would attract enough users, but is this enough to convince a company to commit to the route? Correct me if I am wrong, but did Cal-Mac not state publicly that they were not interested in a vehicle service? Maybe the minister will be asking companies (again?) if they would be interested in tendering, if ships were provided this time.

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  8. DunoonLad,

    Why would a new company have to wait longer than the time it takes for people’s books of tickets to be used for business to build up? As far as I know there are no long term deals so everybody is free to move at a week or twos notice.

    As to Western slashing fares – what a good idea!
    There has never been proper competition on the route I am sure they could cut fares substantially and still make a pretty profit.

    What would the effect of fares being cut be? Well we only need to look at the RET experience – traffic volumes increased so much the ferries don’t have enough capacity.

    So, plenty of room for two companies.

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  9. Ferryman – yes, fair competition is the best result! So, do you think a company will take the risk (or possibly no risk) and tender for the route if ships were provided?

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    • If ships suitable for the route were provided then yes I would expect companies would take the service on.

      Looking at the Ferry Service review it seems clear the Scottish Government also thinks companies will take on CalMac routes, and Dunoon Gourock was one of the best CalMac had. It does seem to me that the writing is on the wall for CalMac. However unless the Scottish Government has learned from the Dunoon fiasco that will spell big trouble throughout Scotland. Provision of suitable boats will be a problem, tourist marketing will be a problem, relief vessels will be a problem – all as per Dunoon.

      Team Nipper mentioned Professor Kay’s blog, in it he argues Western Ferries are running one of the most expensive ferry services in the world and at a high profit. Lets say we don’t get a competing service here then why exactly should we effectively be being taxed to keep Western’s profits up?

      There are two ways to run an airline, high cost low volume like BA and low cost high volume like Ryanair/Easyjet. It would seem to me ferries are not much different and RET has proved that point. The big problem is that all the other businesses suffer because of the low traffic volumes.

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  10. Dunoon Lad. You asked if I took on board Prof Kay’s numbers. I’ve found Professor Kay’s blog very enlightening. He is a very articulate and educated professional and I respect his opinion on this matter. I would defer to his opinion but my concern with his blog is his statement on whether the service could be made profitable was based on traffic details from a number of years ago: I think 2005-06. (I’m happy to be corrected here.) Having spent two years commuting daily I was horrified at the sheer waste of the Calmac car service, When my employers sorted out an account with Western Ferries I was pleased with the service provided: exactly what I needed. (The boats actually roll less in bad weather unlike the Jupiter and Saturn. I’m not a boat person but preferred the rickety old boats as one of my fellow bloggers on the Greenock telegraph website calls the WF boats.)

    I do sympathise with the local foot passengers but the reality is traffic has now moved to WF, WF have ordered new boats to cater for the extra traffic expected. I do feel a tie up through WF into the town would enhance any attempts to sort out the tourism side and provide the populace with the best service. The real issue is no one is prepared to actually suggest the controversial option of ditching the town centre routes and tie it up with a high profile bus service which they could publicy use for tourism. This is actually already in place but is not high profile. A colleague travels from Dunoon to Glasgow by bus direct.

    Dunoon can really try to start selling itself with this irrespective of what happens to Argyll Ferries.

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    • Team Nipper, Western ferries may roll less than Jupiter and Saturn did but your car is going to get pounded by waves and you might get your windscreen staved in.

      Somebody remind me again who was it thought Ali Cat and Argyll Flyer would be reliable on his route?

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  11. “There has never been proper competition on the route I am sure they could cut fares substantially and still make a pretty profit.”
    That puts it in a nutshell.
    And why do so many people persist with the delusion that there is insufficient vehicle traffic to sustain two routes?
    If that was the case why did WF decide to open up on Cowal 30 years ago?
    Private car usage has absolutely mushroomed in the years since, so if there was enough business then there will be more than enough now.
    ‘Very left field, liberating and refocusing an entire argument’ is how FA describes the notion of running the passenger service by bus from Dunoon via Hunter’s Quay; permit me to ask yet another ‘left field’ question – just how many redundant ferry terminals does Dunoon need?

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    • I assumed WF decided ‘to open up in Cowal 30 years ago’ because they considered that they could provide a better vehicle ferry service than Calmac’s.
      If Dunoon’s ferry terminals become redundant it would be because they weren’t fit for purpose for passengers (as opposed to vehicles), hence the idea that a bus service via WF might be both the most effective and most economic way of meeting the need for a decent, comfortable, and user-friendly public transport route between Dunoon and Gourock.

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  12. Robert – you mention not fit for purpose (passengers) I stand to be corrected, but is the new Dunoon linkspan/exit road also not suitable? The exit road from the linkspan is so short, that when a ferry is unloading the vehicles, if the main road is busy, vehicles would be held up, causing delays in vehicles loading. Just an observation.

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