Research on statistics and some number crunching draws a very interesting picture of the services currently delivered to Dunoon by its two ferry services.
These are: Argyll Ferries’ passenger-only service between the two town centres of Gourock and Dunoon, direct to and from the railhead at Gourock; and Western Ferries’ vehicle and passenger service between Dunoon and Gourock (Hunters’ Quay and McInroy’s Point).
Supply and demand
The figures show that, in total, Dunoon’s current ferry services together have the capacity to deliver:
- 10,871,460 passengers a year, 5,435,730 in each direction
- 1,200,000 cars a year, 600,000 in each direction.
The evidence has also shown that the demand for these services in 2010, the most recent year’s figures available in the Scottish Transport Statistics, was as follows:
- Passengers 2010: 1,813,000 (1,313,800 on Western ferries and 499,200 on Cowal Ferries)
- Cars 2010: 625,400 (564,000 on Western Ferries and 61,400 on Cowal Ferries)
- Commercial vehicles & buses 2010: 36,500 (33,000 on Western Ferries and 3,500 on Cowal Ferries)
Comparing demand with the available capacity today produces a picture of 1,813,000 passenger movements against a total available capacity to carry 10,871,460. Of this, Western Ferries can deliver 6,000,000 a year and Argyll Ferries 4,871,460 a year,
This is an overall overcapacity of 83.32% on passenger movements.
It is also 69.78% overcapacity for Western Ferries alone; 62.68% overcapacity for Argyll Ferries alone; and 67.97% overcapacity for the former Cowal Ferries service alone.
Then there is an annual demand for 625,400 car movements – against an available capacity of 1,200,000. In 2010 there was also a demand for 36,500 movements of commercial vehicles and buses, each of which takes more deck space than a car.
This indicates that the vehicle shifting capacity delivered by Western Ferries, is comfortably capable of meeting demand and growth – with more capacity to come when its two new and judiciously larger boats come on stream.
The picture as a whole indicates that if there were no specialist passenger service, the Western Ferries service alone could deliver the current demand, with almost 70% overcapacity on passenger movements and room for growth on vehicle movements.
This might not be quite so convenient for foot passengers – but then the Isle of Islay gets delivered to the middle of nowhere at Kennacraig where bus services meet the ferry.
Could the former Cowal Ferries service have delivered this level of demand alone?
The demand statistics for 2010 show 1,813,000 passengers, 625,400 cars and 36,500 commercial vehicles and buses carried between both services on the route.
The service operated by the former Cowal Ferries had a capacity to deliver:
- 5,662,068 passengers a year
- 399,836 cars a year
This service could have delivered the demand for annual passenger movements – with an overcapacity of 67.97%. It could not have delivered alone the demand for vehicle movements.
In practice, in 2010 it delivered 499,200 passengers; 61,400 cars; and 3,500 commercial vehicles and buses. The rest of the demand went to Western Ferries.
The picture and its potential consequences
These conclusions would indicate that there is a strong ‘best value’ case for the Scottish Government simply to retire public sector provision on this route when the current Argyll Ferries contract expires on 30th June 2017; and to put out to tender a much more modest requirement for a filler passenger service on the route to cover only the periods of peak commuter traffic to Glasgow.
In the light of the strength of the ‘best value’ case, the level of agitation that is being produced by those who choose not to accept the financial, commercial and demand realities of the situation is unwise.
Such unreason in the face of an obviously extreme overprovision might become a potent persuader of the government to consider seriously such a retiral from the route.
Argyll Ferries – the delivery reality
These campaigners would do well also to consider the outcome of this analysis on the market performance of Argyll Ferries, which, contrary to urban myth, is actually doing rather well.
When compared to the market performance of the passenger service on the former Cowal Ferries, the picture may surprise.
The evidence indicates that the new specialist passenger service carried more passengers in its first quarter of operation than Cowal Ferries had in the same quarter – the busiest – of the previous year.
In the pattern of overall progressive decline in passenger movements on this route, this reversal of that pattern is unprecedented and encouraging.
In its second quarter of operation, Argyll Ferries hit the buffers with a sharp fall in passenger movements compared to those achieved by the former Cowal Ferries. The reasons for this are immediately detectable and are given in the detailed paper available below for readers to see the facts, figures and evidenced argument.
In its third quarter (January to March 2012), the most recent operational period for which figures are currently available, the new service has recovered 82.18% of the percentage fall of 10.1% it experienced in the previous quarter. It is also, unprecedentedly, showing an increase in the number of passengers carried in this quarter – traditionally the least busy – as opposed to the previous one.
The Argyll Ferries service deserves to be regarded, in performance and potential, very differently from the picture presented by its detractors for their strategic campaign reasons.
Given the serious overcapacity of the current provision on the route, there is a case for saying that the Scottish Government has a duty to retire public sector input to this route in 2017. It certainly has options.
The Scottish Government is already aware of this over provision and a report created during the recent Ferries Review, points to this. We would have liked to have had access to this paper as part of this research but the Government has refused our FOI request for it on the basis that it is not in the public interest.
Nevertheless it is expected that this paper will be made available to the consultants who will undertake the ‘feasibility’ study assessing the economics of operating an unsubsidised vehicle service on this route. This has been commissioned by Infrastructure secretary, Alex Neil.
We anticipate that the Government will also release to these consultants the information on the numbers of foot-passengers actually using the through train service. This is the justification the Scottish Government used to argue for the lifeline status of the passenger service and is the single matter that could obstruct public sector retiral from service provision on this route.
If the evidence should shows that there are fewer than 50,000 ferry/train journeys, then every ferry/train trip is being subsidised by £35 per trip.
The cost of the overall subsidy commitment to the Argyll Ferries service comes at a time when Scotland is in recession, has complex and deepening demands on the public purse and, with the rest of the UK, faces even harder times as the crisis with the euro evolves.
The hard evidence demonstrates just how hugely fortunate Dunoon is with its current – and clearly unnecessary – level of ferry service provision.
The Dunoon Ferries Action Group would be well advised to consider the potential of its current stance to destroy this privileged scenario and instead look to how it might copper-fasten the services it has.
- Note 1: The paper showing the detailed evidence for the situation argument above is here: Dunoon ferry services: the supply and demand picture
- Note 2: The Scottish Transport Statistics’ delivery figures for CalMac/Cowal Ferries service on the Gourock Dunoon route are here.
- Note 3: The Scottish Transport Statistics’ delivery figures for Western Ferries service on the Gourock Dunoon route are here.