Research reveals shock insights into reality of Dunoon ferry service provision

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.
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125 Responses to Research reveals shock insights into reality of Dunoon ferry service provision

  1. Pingback: Argyll News: Dunoon ferry services: the supply and demand picture | For Argyll

  2. If events combine to encourage the government to look at closure of the passenger ferry service, I wonder how much subsidy would be needed by a frequent shuttle bus running between Dunoon town centre and Gourock station via WF, with priority boarding. Timed to connect with trains, this would surely be more passenger-friendly (and reliable) than the existing set-up, and it would be interesting to know the journey time, compared with the current passenger ferry and extended walk between boat and train.

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  3. Just wondering about peak capacity vs peak demand. These raw figures are fine and tell one story. But during rush hour what capacity is there spare?

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    • There are two issues here – neither operator publishes breakdown figures and one would need to see those and analyse them closely to distil the usage patterns.
      Peak time under supply may be likely which is why we’ve said the Scottish Government, if it retired public sector involvement, might tender a small filler service.
      Then, major city transport cannot cope with full demand at peak time commuter times. You can’t get on a tube sometimes so you learn to start earlier.
      There’s no reason why the massive overprovision on the Gourock Dunoon route might not be left to the market to resolve as it will.
      Travel early or get in late. Taking that line would also spread use of capacity better.

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      • Newsroom (aka soapbox) are you advocating cutting the number of Western Ferries crossings by half, there is a huge overcapacity?

        Also I got my slide-rule out;

        Lets, for the sake of argument, say all the Western Ferries passengers traveled by car. That means each car held 1,313,800/564,000=2.3passengers.

        Lets apply the same figure to Cowal Ferries. It carried 61,400 cars, so with 2.3 passengers per car the anticipated passenger numbers would be 2.3 x 61,400= 141,220. Yet they actually carried 499,200. That is 499,200-141,220 = 357,980 extra passengers carried direct to Dunoon town centre.

        The EU was obviously correct that the Dunoon town centre passenger service is an essential service not met by Western Ferries – don’t you agree?

        Do you have any announcements to make about the event horizons around black holes? Is that outside your area of expertise? If it is why do you consider you are competent to perform economic or accounting analysis? Have you even got your reporter’s badge yet to show you might be considered a journalist?

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        • Ferryman all newsroom has done is simple maths and made some conclusions. No need to make this personal just because you don’t agree.

          Taking your figures you need to divide this by 2 as its a fair assumption that half go to gourock.

          I wonder how many foot passengers western takes.

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          • Peter: Newsroom pretends to be a news and information service but describes people of opposing opinions as “woodentops” in articles – by comparison I have not been the least bit personal.

            If you wish to divide the figures by two that is fine you still end up with the town centre route carrying an extra 180,000 foot passengers directly into the centre of Dunoon.

            Of course those figures will dwindle if the ferry service is not reliable and is cancelled and disrupted for days at a time as happened in June. That affects businesses which makes the destination less attractive which sets up a vicious spiral.

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    • Neil Kay did a very cogent piece on the folly of looking simplistically at spare capacity. One of his points related to how to close a public toilet – you only need one don’t you, they are grossly underused.

      I suppose newsroom’s stance is to be credited though, very bold and far sighted to propose a policy that would close almost every rural school in Scotland if applied to all public spending.

      You need spare capacity.

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  4. As a passenger, it would be a real pain to consider a bus from Western to the train – given the lack of parking at the Hunters Quay area.
    It invokes the scenario where parking at Dunoon old ferry terminal, catching a bus to Western, catching the ferry, catching another bus, and catching a train or taxi to the hospital becomes possible.

    Dangerous subject Newsroom. Do you also play with matches and open petrol cans? (grin)

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    • Grant – I think it’s much more likely to invoke the scenario of a bus through from Dunoon town centre to Gourock station, with no changes. McGill’s already use WF for the Dunoon – Glasgow service, and in other places you can see several double deckers on a ferry at the same time – e.g. the Devonport – Torpoint service (where the ferry ramps take two-way traffic to speed up the turnaround).

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      • So Mr Wakeman. Can you calculate how much longer in weeks per year somebody who used your suggestion would have to spend traveling to work?

        I’ll give you a clue its several weeks spent doing nothing but taking extra buses.

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        • Why don’t you do it?

          Work out the time difference between getting to central station by ferry and train and then work it out using Mcgills . Also tell us how much money you would save using the bus as it so much cheaper using their weekly tickets

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          • I travel daily so I am interested in these things. The published timetable would not get me to work on time. If I did use it I would be spending literally weeks extra traveling over the course of a year. Finally I understand the buses don’t always get on the ferries so its not even reliable.

            Absolutely fine for a casual trip or a day out, but not suitable for commuters.

            I do think this is an important point and it has been raised at several public meetings (not by me); a fair number of people use the ferries to commute to work. The new arrangement is very difficult for both foot and car commuters. Over time these people will tend to leave the community and they will not be replaced. This will cause a decline in the local economy. I would expect the results to be apparent before the end of the current Argyll Ferries contract. The service will then be ceased (use it or lose it) resulting in further decline.

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          • Peter – I’d be interested in the time difference between catching a ferry from downtown Dunoon to Gourock and walking along to the station compared with catching a bus to the station entrance via the much shorter WF route.
            Ferryman – ‘the buses don’t always get on the ferries’ – really? – in other places scheduled bus services using ferries get priority boarding to avoid just that problem.

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  5. Very interesting FACTS and figures newsroom. When you look at all the figures together, they paint a true picture of the situation, unless the last couple of years have changed dramatically. No doubt some will put a un-realistic spin on the facts though. The Commuter services of McGills, should really be given priority boardings on the ferry sailings.

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    • Obviously from newsrooms facts Western Ferries need to cut the number of ferries in half as our vehicle service has double the required capacity don’t you agree?

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          • No I was taking about you. You put out content that is baseless and refuse to answer any challange to your opinion. Your claims are exaggerated and fact less.

            If you say it’s going to weeks, prove it.

            With regards to your numbers, 180,000 will mostly be commuters travelling every day or those going to the hospital. These are not visitors they are residents.

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          • Can we have a rule here that people who post an idea put forward the figures to support it?

            I kind of resent having to show that ramblings put forward by Wakeham who does not use or even know the ferry service are nonsense rather than him having to show that he has put any effort or though behind his outpourings on every topic that appears on this blog. This time though here is an example;

            You can leave from essential the same spot in Dunoon using McGills bus 907 or the Argyll Flyer at 07:15.

            The Argyll Flyer will get you to the train station for 07:40 weather permitting. This is more than enough time for the able bodied to walk round to the train on platform 3.

            The room for improvement here is not pontoons but simply to get the train to depart from platform 1 instead of 3.

            Unfortunately if you took the bus it is going to arrive 08:00, that is 20 minutes later and the train has already departed.

            If you continue on the bus then things will only get worse because of course the train goes faster than the bus and does not get involved in traffic jams.

            Lets look though at that 20 minute difference, and assume something similar applies on the way home so in total you add 40 mintues to your travel each day.

            Its a five day working week so that is 3.3hours (40min x 5) of extra travel each week.

            There are 52 weeks in a year but people take holidays, so lets say there are 46 working weeks in the year. That means taking the bus to the station costs you 153 hours (3.3H x 46) of extra travel.

            If we count the working week as 40h then that comes to 3.8 working weeks (153h/40) of extra travel!!!

            As I said if you take the bus all the way to Glasgow things get even worse.

            I don’t know about you but I value my time not at work. The idea that I should spend an EXTRA 4 weeks stuck on a bus is simply not on. That is free time equivalent to most of my annual holidays spent stuck on a bus.

            Exactly the same applies to car drivers. Many people who commute to work by car using WF must be struggling at the moment – trust me I used to commute by car and I could not have done it without BOTH the CalMac service and the WF service operating.

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          • So, Ferryman, you use McGill’s bus timetable for the comparison, but it takes 45 minutes to travel from Dunoon to Gourock station whereas the WF sector of the journey is only 20 minutes, so by my reckoning it would only take around 25 or 30 minutes if the bus drove straight onto the ferry, which then promptly departed, and the bus was in the first line off at the Cloch. This happens elsewhere and I can’t think of any good reason why it couldn’t happen at Hunter’s Quay. The bus would deliver you as close or closer to the train than a ferry delivering you to the linkspan, particularly if the train is at the ‘inland’ platform. And the departure time from Dunoon would be coordinated with the train departure time from Gourock, so your demonstration of your expert knowledge is actually not a lot of use – being based, perhaps, on the ‘can’t be done’ philosophy of someone who considers themselves expert in the subject and so not to be argued with?

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  6. Argyll Ferries announced earlier this evening that their services will revert to the breakwater linkspan to-night, as the repairs/servicing are now completed. Only 1 1/2 weeks out of service – just as well Dunoon and Gourock travellers were not relying on this linkspan for vehicle transport!

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    • I am not sure why the ferries are going back to the breakwater linkspan, do you know?

      Would it not be more sensible to continue to use the historic pier? The ferries obviously have much less difficulty in docking there.

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      • Another daft comment from ‘ferryman’. If the weather had been different while the linkspan was under repair then reliability would have been much lower. For someone who claims to use the ferry every day you would think that he might have mentioned that.

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        • The ferries can dock more easily at the linkspan at the historic pier as they can sail right alongside. At the breakwater slip they have to cross their own wash and reverse.
          If the weather is bad it makes little difference the bathtubs will cancel whichever linkspan you use or even pontoons as they cannot make the crossing.

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        • Correct, the contract is to use the new linkspan.
          It has been varied to use the linkspan at the historic pier. Since that is a better arrangement why not continue the variation?

          To vary a contract both parties have to agree. Transport Scotland run CalMac who own Argyll Ferries – why would anybody disagree, using the the linkspan at the historic pier will save Argyll Ferries fuel.

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  7. My personal beef comes from the absolute incompetence of every single political party over the years.
    As someone who uses the ferries rather more often than makes financial sense (over a hundred quid last week), it really grates at the inactivity of both our Holyrood ‘trough’ politicians and the Westminster ‘gravy train’ bloke.

    The guy at Westminster should be playing the awkward card as this is a chance to repeatedly ask London to bail out an incompetent Scottish Govt who have allowed peoples lives at risk with toy boats. However, such a sensible manoeuvre to benefit his constituents seems to have escaped and he resorts to ‘I’ve found a bandwagon’ letters to the local paper.

    In fact, I start to suspect politicians do not even use the ferry but instead, opt to employ the often seen, helicopters which arrive at our distant outcrop. This would also explain the lack of political will on the road network.

    The harsh fact is, the area does not need two competing ferry services. The numbers given in the article make perfect sense.
    Our area does need a sensible ferry service and a bodge solution involving bus services fails to appeal on several levels which I will not go into here.

    My personal Gordium solution would be simple.

    1. Approach Western and ask if they would be willing to move to the town. At no cost and no extra rating disadvantage.
    2. Modify one of the linkspans to match Westerns docking requirement.
    3. Enable a temporary bus service from McInroys Point to the station.
    4. Modify the linkspan at Gourock to cope with Western.
    5. Dismiss Argyll Ferries for incompetence.
    6. Scrap all subsidies.
    7. Modify the second linkspan at Dunoon for Western.
    8. Build a causeway bridge from Ardentinny to Coulport. If the Royal Navy want a lifting section, let them pay for it. I like their subs but would prefer they were docked in Glasgow and Leith, powering the cities with cheap energy.
    9. Item 8 above also stuffs any excessive pricing ambitions from Western in the longer term.
    Ferry problems solved, along with the Rest and be Thankful issue along with silly windfarms.
    Obviously, I choose to ignore who actually claims ownership of the existing facilities at both Dunoon and Gourock. However, with the suspicion WE THE CUSTOMERS actually own both facilities in final analysis, I would suspect a competent politician (misnomer?) could cut through any civil service nonsense.
    So the big question is, do we have a competent politician?
    Or have we elected yet another bunch of troughers?
    Rant over.

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    • I agree about the politicians, the whole bunch are totally uninspiring and could not run a raffle. The real power rests with the Civil Servants in Transport Scotland who have their feet up behind the desk, are completely unaccountable and run rings round the politicians.

      The only change I would make to your plan would be to limit the profits on the ferry service. I presume you don’t grudge your hundred quid unless you are being ripped off?

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      • ferryman.

        Oh, I really grudge my 100 quid. You have no idea how much I grudge it. But I grudge every penny as a default position, so perhaps explainable. (grin) Getting ill and having to visit Inverclyde Hospital daily can start to cost real money, especially when concerned family want to come along for the wild experience of seeing new faces and enjoy the experience of the WRVS shoppe.

        The causeway bridge would tend to legislate against Western being too ambitious with pricing structures and thus, ensure a lack of windfall profit. And getting to the new Waitrose would be interesting in a sad way…

        (wonder how long before one of the Simon persona’s gives me the first of six red arrows)

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        • I really, really don’t like the current situation of having one vehicle ferry service. If a hundred quid is the going rate I’ll pay it but when I have experienced people telling me the cost is over the odds it grates.

          That is the first time I have heard the idea of a causeway. It would involve a lot of road investment. As a daily user trying to get to and from Glasgow my first thought is its not too attractive to me. However for a casual user it would open up a choice between road and ferry. It might even have a role as an alternative to the A83.

          I am sorry you are unwell. I don’t wish to pry but is there a reason you don’t use the passenger only service to get to and from the hospital.

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          • Ferryman, never ask someone about health issues. It provokes an answer!

            Even the most basic immune system conditions such as coeliac disease (sounds dramatic, it ain’t) or diabetes opens the poor sucker so inflicted to harsh attack from germs with someone and their sniffy nose.

            You get a bit paranoid after a while – or in my case, after experiencing the funny flu which hit Dunoon, then shingles, then a bone infection, then something gall bladder related. The idea of being trapped with a bus/ferry load of “Typhoid Mary’s” tends to lack any appeal and makes the 100 quid for being trapped in my car seem cheap.

            Of course, there’s always the risible bit at the end when you arrive at a hospital full of sick people wanting to kill you. That’s a bit of a oddity which confounds.

            The causeway thing is my own personal hobby horse. I visited Kilcreggan last year – by road – and was gobsmacked at how close Stone was. I’ve been used to darting across by boat but the penny only dropped following a journey which needed a van. Hence the short crossing suggestion from Ardentinny to Coulport.

            The trip from Coulport over the hill to Helensburgh seemed the work of minutes and would rival the Gourock/Greenock/Port Glasgow misery in timescales if continuing to the airport or the city.

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  8. I have tired not to engage with for argyll on the last post that attacked Mike Russell. It was so full of errors it wa unbelievable. While stating it was giving factual information it certainly was not, and showed a complete inability to look at evidence and move beyond opinion.

    I just have to come in here a and say that that is one of the worst uses of statistics Masquerading as facts that I have come across recently. If there is so much overcapacity then why do cars have to queue regularily and wait for the following boat at Western? Crude use of statistics tells us nothing.

    I despair. I will say now before anyone thinks it is smart to do so, I am Neil Kay’s wife and have known Mike Russell for years. Both men can testify that I do not slavishly follow anyone’s opinions, am quite capable of disagreeing with both of them, simultaneoulsy! AndI am not folowing any family or friendship lines here. I wish For Argyll would be more factual and less biased.

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    • The very fact that WF are building more capacity speaks volumes for that old saying that ‘there are lies, damn lies and statistics’ (unless they’ve got plans to expand onto another route up their sleeve)

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  9. Yes, a very dubious interpretation. Ferries today demonstrate exactly the need for capacity. With the rest closed and even with the extra sailings the queues are taking a while to.shift. For Argylls take on this would, if applied to buses condem most of the services in Argyll. Compare some of those subsidies with the ferries and its no wonder the Council is skint, but no one would argue for a reduction in those srvices and yas some routes have been subsidised by more than £35 per journey.
    There is also the question of the vehicle service. Inverclyde is desperate to reduce the traffic on Kempoch St. Its got even worse since Western got the monopoly on vehicles. so this has a negative impact both sides of the Clyde.
    If it wasnt for the Cowal ferries Argyll would be consideribly quieter today. So dont underestimate their economic importance.

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  10. Puffer – you are factually incorrect about traffic levels increasing on Kempock St because Western have a monopoly – the study associated with the proposed development shows an overall DECLINE in traffic through Gourock.

    This alleged ‘overcapacity’. Interesting term. This assumes every ferry runs every route. Which they don’t. The reduce the number of ferries and services when there is a lower demand. Thus the capacity is reduced. Clever eh?! ‘Capacity potential’ maybe?

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    • You are logically adrift in this – and you actually support the position the facts demonstrate.
      Nothing we have said in evidencing the massive capacity overprovisiom on this route has anything at all to do with whether empty ferries sail or not.
      If you are correct that there are occasions when there is no reason to sail, it is actually further evidence that the capacity is way ahead of the demand – otherwise those services would sail.

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      • So newsroom you wish to close schools, shut down bus routes, close swimming pools, libraries and public toilets all of which by your simplistic understanding of capacity have capacity way ahead of demand?

        Why do we bother maintaining the roads?
        What is the vehicle capacity of the A83 and A82, surely the number of vehicles could be carried on single track?

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      • Surely WF – who are unlikely to invest in redundant capacity – have probably calculated for one boat being out of action for maintenance, the others coping (if all deployed) with traffic peaks, and enough spare capacity at quieter times to deal with unforeseen events (like the Rest being closed).

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        • If they are not investing in redundant capacity are you suggesting they have a policy of making people queue to gain full revenue from capacity.

          If I ran a ferry service without competition that is what I would do.

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          • And would you invest in more boats just so that people never needed to wait at peak periods, boats that would be lying idle for much of the time, when you’re already running a boat every 15 minutes on a crossing that only takes 20 minutes?

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          • So Wakeham you would support WF making people queue to maximise their profit by fully utilizing their ferry capacity?

            If it was my company that is exactly what I would do. No competition, cash in the bank.

            What is your position give a clear answer.

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          • Twisting things again, Ferryman – who on earth can justify investing in capacity to cover occasional peaks in demand when the delay is really not that long? – and bear in mind that apparently WF’s two new boats are to be bigger than the existing ones. For how much of the time do people have to wait beyond the next service? – it would be very interesting to know the average waiting time (here we go – back in the realm of juggling with statistics)

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          • Wakeham I am not twisting anything.
            If I owned a monopoly ferry service i would NOT invest in extra capacity. I would make sure my ferry was full every time. If it got to the scheduled sailing time and my ferry was not full I would wait a bit till till it was.

            Why not it is a business, I am human, and I have a cash cow to milk?

            So where do you stand?
            Stop sitting on the fence.

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          • You ignore the possibility that a good businessman would realise that there is a point where mercenary behaviour becomes counter-productive. You ask where do I stand, as if I’ve got to be either for or against WF, and that’s being simplistic – in my opinion they do a good job, and aren’t abusing their ‘monopoly’, but this isn’t to say they’re squeaky clean – and if they don’t publish commercial vehicle rates I think that the idea that this depends on the individual circumstances of the customer is a rather weak excuse, suggests the possibility that it covers mercenary behaviour that’s against the public interest, and might one day turn round and bite Mr Ross in the bum – hard.

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    • Can you reference the stud you mention which shows there has been a decline.

      A decline would be very worrying wouldn’t it because where have the 60,000 vehicles per year that were using CalMac gone?

      My understanding, unless you can reference the study, agrees with Puffer. Inverclyde Council are proposing building a bypass to cater for the traffic diverted as a result of the town centre route becoming passenger only. If I remember correctly this was reported in the Observer?

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  11. Puffer/Ferryman.;jsessionid=9E15C6AA80386BDA43BDA39A0A819B6C?category=application&caseNo=12%2F0212%2FIC
    Please read the ‘transport asessment’. Particular attention should be paid to
    4.2.1 ‘other flows are noted as consistent or reduced from 2011′
    5.3.2 (Page 20) – ‘suggests that traffic through Gourock has decreased between 1997 and 2011 rather than increased’
    5.3.3 ‘allowance has been made for the withdrawal of the Calmac ferry in 2012…with total flows in both direction down 2% on 2011 after adjustment’
    So whilst there are some peak increases, overall, traffic is REDUCING through Gourock.
    So does this change your understanding?

    For anyone in Dunoon, its worth noting that these plans for gourock will have a significant adverse effect on journey times. The one-way ‘by pass’ wil have 4 pedestrian crossings west bound, two of which will be in constant use because they provide sole pedestrian access to the car park.

    THe traffic report staes that journey times may reduce by 10seconds, but this does not take into account the crossings. Make your own conclusion folks. Sorry to go a bit astray!

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    • Hello Jamie, that is what I like some real information.
      It will take some time to read – which I will do.

      Without reading it my first question remains: where have the 60,000 vehicles that used CalMac gone, they must surely now be trying to use WF at the same times as before i.e. mainly peak.

      My second concern is that you seem to be suggesting that travel times will increase rather than decrease for those traveling to and fro between WF and Glasgow. I had assumed a lot of money would be spent but travel times would decrease – it is a blow if the reverse is true.

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  12. What isnt made clear is what is WFs capacity for vehicles? As far as my experience goes most sailings are fairly full, when demand requires it they put on extra sailings, like today. And that is why they are investing in two larger boats, its for the lucrative vehicle carrying operation.

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  13. Let me see. 60,000 cars carried by Cowal Ferries each year in the past. Assume that’s an even split each way, so 30,000 in each direction annually. From memory, CalMac gave 15 sailings each way per weekday, and two less on weekends (not including the Ali Cat runs, for obvious reasons). That’s a total of 101 return sailings per week, so 5,250 (or near enough) per year in each direction. That, if my arithmetic is correct, works out at an average of less than six cars per sailing. So, does that mean that if they are all still travelling across the water by boat, and are now using Western Ferries, that these boats are now carrying (again, making as assumption of three sailings per hour, as it is for most of the day), that WF are carrying an extra two cars per sailing?

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    • Looks about right, 2 cars per trip won’t be noticed in Gourock. The real issue with kempoch street are the delivery vans unloading and not Western’s traffic.

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    • You are falling into newsrooms simplistic trap of looking at averages and capacity. If a lot of people use the service for work then you cannot average things out. Even tourist traffic has to be looked at in terms of peaks.

      The same applies to weather cancellations. You might look at cancellations and say on average that does not look too bad, but weather does not work like that. Bad weather cancels multiple consecutive sailings, which is a disaster if you are traveling.

      Take as an example June where 80 odd sailings canceled. On average over the month it does not sound too bad. However they were due to weather so they all happened over the space of a few days. If they were spread out on average you would miss one boat and get the next, but they are not so there is no next boat and you do not get to work.

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  14. Ferryman,

    From what I can see in the report, there IS an increase due to Calmac , but that overall, traffic is on the decrease (and actually the peak increase is not expained by CAlmac – R&BT maybe?).

    6.4.3 ‘delays caused by pedestrian crossings for examples are not explicitly allowed for…’. It then quotes a reduction of 10%, which equates to 10seconds, not taking into account the above.

    But yeah, have a look and see what you make of it. It’s not the silver bullet – far from it. IC have dressed this up a lot. Even parking in Kempock St car park will be reduced – 384 to 371. (In the planning application).

    Happy reading!

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  15. Robert “downtown Dunoon” how very American of you but there again your views do seem the sort of thing an American Republican would have(that’s not good by the way).Can anyone tell me just how much McGills pay WF as it would be interesting to know how they make a profit on this run considering how many passengers seem to be students and senior citizens who of course get concession fares.Does WF run a loss leader to get the passenger traffic away from AF with the ulterior motive the Dunoon -Gourock being ceased.I do like a good conspiracy theory.

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    • If you’re referring to me, and my response way back under #4, likening my comment to that of an American Republican is the ultimate insult, but on the assumption that you might be a Dunoon resident of long standing, and might thus be sensitive to ‘americanisms’, I’ll let it pass. Yes it does look as if McGill’s bus – with the help of concessionary fares and the inadequate passenger ferry service – will entice people away from the train route.
      All the more reason to take a hard look at how the passenger service needs improving, and I get huge disapproval from some ‘experts’ for suggesting that there’s more than just the boats at fault.

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  16. With my attention being drawn to my being cited here, I will make what I hope will be my last contribution to this site.

    Newsroom pretends to journalist status and an academic background. She displays no journalistic skills and as far as academic pretentions are concerned, most academics leave a trace behind in terms of publications and other evidence, but I can find not a trace in the records.

    Perhaps Newsroom would post a CV so we can judge the journalist and/or academic qualifications which qualified her to stand on this soapbox? Mine is on public display in my shorter CV on my website at . It includes my two current professorial positions at two UK universities.

    Quite apart from the fact that if the English language could speak for itself it would beg for mercy from its torturing at the hands of Newsroom, I have rarely read such a pathetic mish-mash of pretentious and illogical rantings as is delivered from Newsroom. When I have read anything like this in the past (and to my misfortune, I have) it has usually been from weak students out of their depth and trying to compensate with big words and long sentences, a standard ploy. Her writing would fail any first year economics test – indeed any English class or journalistic test.

    I do not know who Ferryman is but as a professional business economist I can say he has an impressive grasp of the issues. But in this forum he is wasting his breath.

    Why am I bothering to post this? Because there are people and groups who care about their community and to have them mocked by the likes of newsroom is insufferable. And the danger that could be done to communities if anyone actually believed her irresponsible scribblings and misinformation is considerable.

    The best that can be done for this site is to ignore it, which is what I hope that others will do from now on.

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    • Neil: The comments on your website on the difference between an accountant and an economist analysing the cost / benefit implications of a transport system make me wonder if the Rest & Be Thankful landslide disruptions have been thoroughly assessed in terms of the real costs to the road users? Any comments would I’m sure be widely appreciated.

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    • DunoonLad: Don’t tell anyone (especially ferryman, for the good of his health) but I worked out a plan to extend the Glasgow – Gourock line via Dunoon, Rothesay and Tignabruaich to Lochgilphead. Not cheap, admittedly, but a good job-creation scheme in hard times, and it would work wonders for connectivity, reducing journey times and providing a secure alternative mode of travel in the event of storms, floods and landslides. Perhaps surprisingly, the most expensive stretch to construct would likely be the stretch up the coast from Millhouse to Otter Ferry, through difficult terrain, rather than the undersea tunnels between Gourock and Tighnabruaich.
      My inspiration was Iain Banks’ detailed evocation of a more connected Argyll in ‘The Crow Road’. I bet this’ll get the thumbs down from you-know-who.

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  17. “The best that can be done for this site is to ignore it, which is what I hope that others will do from now on.”
    Everyone should have an opinion and have a right to express it in their own way. Many times I have seen bully’s who knock people down because there “English” is poor, I have been pulled up be4 so wat. This site is very dangerous and should be ignored, its giving joe public a voice.

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  18. Well Newsie – now there is a challenge form Neil Kay about YOU!!!

    “Perhaps Newsroom would post a CV so we can judge the journalist and/or academic qualifications which qualified her to stand on this soapbox?”

    Any comment???? :)

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  19. So, a serious search is now under way to seek out a suitable vehicle/passenger ferry to replace the Ali Cat. Interesting times ahead?

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    • They have been searching for years. More hype and no substance.

      Even if they find a boat they still have to sort out the legals and the money.

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      • wakeham: “it’s just August peak friday night holiday traffic, or there’s an event somewhere”

        Fine then who gives a damn we don’t really want these people to visit do we?

        One thing is for sure they will not try to visit twice.

        Of course newsroom (aka soapbox) does not want excess capacity and so will be happy with this situation and pleased that a private monopoly service provider is maximising the return on their investment.

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  20. Newsie – I’ve decided to re-post this in case you missed it….


    Well Newsie – now there is a challenge from Neil Kay about YOU!!!

    “Perhaps Newsroom would post a CV so we can judge the journalist and/or academic qualifications which qualified her to stand on this soapbox?”

    Any comment????

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    • newsroom (aka soapbox) does not even have the cub reporters badge yet. With the change of leadership at Argyll and Bute Council newsroom, has the council decided you are not Joe public with a website yet?

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  21. Gus Mackay. Neil Kay


    Dave McEwan Hill – or the “mischevious liar” as Newsroom described me when I related some first hand accounts of the terror passengers were experiencing on the tubs.

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  22. There would appear to be an increase in large vehicles coming round by road which is a damning verdict on the cost of the ferry crossing – and creates a havoc situation when the A83 is closed.

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  23. To phil – Western’s website has an enquiry page to complete, asking for type of vehicle, length, passengers etc, which they will no doubt respond to. But there must be a list of all the rates. Maybe a question for MSP, or MP to give you an answer?

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  24. There is a distinct lack of comments about the announcement that Alex Neil has told Argyll ferries to replace the Ali Cat with a vehicle ferry. Is this not the solution that so many people have demanded? Is there a catch to this news that has not been made public?

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    • It raises all sorts of questions – such as have the streakers been sold yet? – but maybe, given this sudden command, people are waiting for more detail. I can see that it’s an attempt to allay the safety concerns, and maybe the private monopoly issue, but from my point of view it perpetuates the poor treatment of foot passengers at Gourock unless there’s a radical relocation of the station platform. That, and the provision of decent boats, would cost real money. I won’t mention passenger boarding arrangements because it makes Ferryman ‘tired & emotional’.

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  25. Dunoon Lad – maybe tyhe lack of comment revolves around the fact that the account from the Cowal Courier contains the dreaded words “it is understood…”

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  26. Robert, unfortunately a brand new rail station has recently been built, and this involves a very long walk for passengers using the linkspan at Gourock. The station should have been located at the Cal-Mac headquarters site, which was going to relocate to Oban some years ago, if I remember correctly. This would have provided a transport hub suitable for the 21st century. It seems that those in charge of transport at the moment have no joined up thinking regarding these vital connections.

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    • I’d heard about the station being improved at considerable expense, and this was one reason I wondered at the apparent uselessness of SPTE in coordinating passenger transport in the region – until someone explained that while they were responsible for the Gourock – Kilcreggan passenger ferry the trains had been ‘confiscated’ by Holyrood, and they had no say in the Dunoon ferry. So it looks as if Gourock is a lesson in transport mismanagement on the grand scale. If this is the best that a government aspiring to independence can do, it had better watch its back.

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  27. The Scottish Government cannot instruct Argyll Ferries to replace a passenger ferry with a vehicle ferry within the term of the current contract – unless – directly or indirectly, it assists them to do so.
    Were this to happen, it is unimaginable that this would survive the challenge under competition law that would inevitably follow from the other bidders for this contract.
    All bidders in the original tender for the current contract operated by Argyll Ferries, were invited to submit a proposal to deliver the passenger service in a vehicle and passenger ferry.
    In this instance, every penny of the costs associated with the delivery of a vehicle service would have to be accounted separately from the passenger costs, which are legally subsidised.
    Not one bidder submitted such a proposal – because the vehicle service between the town centres of Gourock and Dunoon cannot be competitive and is not financially viable.
    No politician can wave a wand and change this fact.
    Me Neil, as with any politician is skilled in using phrases to deceive the unwary, such as ‘the Scottish Government is committed to…’- which means nothing; or ‘I would like to see…’ – which means the same.
    What is going on is a surreal spectator sport where the government appears to be flailing around against the scenario they brought into being themselves by the decisions they took.
    Presumably, they could either stop the current contract and transfer the financial penalty from one pubic sector pocket to another via the Argyll ferries books.
    They could then retender the contract, specified differently – but this could not make a vehicle service between the Gourock and Dunoon town centres subsidisable; nor could it make it financially viable. What could a second outcome be?
    Alternatively they could go ahead and indirectly assist Argyll Ferries to a vehicle and passenger ferry – and buy off the original competing bidders from issuing a challenge under competition law by giving them routes removed from the west coast portfolio operated by Calmac and ‘tendered’.

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  28. “Not one bidder submitted such a proposal – because the vehicle service between the town centres of Gourock and Dunoon cannot be competitive and is not financially viable.”

    Utter and total nonsense. I am just about to uninstal For Argyll from my PC

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  29. So, Dave McEwan Hill and Neil Kay (both SNP boys) have decided that they no longer wish to be associated with the FA blog.

    Newsie seems to be ticking people off…

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  30. So, if Newsroom is wrong, what does the contract and subsidy rules say exactly? A few “experts” are saying that nobody else knows the facts apart from them it seems. Why not let us all know the true facts then!

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  31. To ferryman – I didn’t realise that the contract would have been in the public domain – thought it would have been confidential. Yes, making comments like why don’t they use the old pier all the time – now you know for definate! Need to study document.

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    • The historic pier was excluded from the tender. That eliminated the two seaworthy vehicle ferries that could have been available in the ridiculous timetable.

      Now, as we have just seen, the contract was varied to allow use of the historic pier. There is no reason historic pier should not continue to be used or for its exclusion from the original tender. Somebody had it in for the vehicle service.

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  32. Pingback: Argyll News: Gourock-Dunoon ferry: the authoritative position | For Argyll

  33. To Robert Wakeman answering #17,you missed my point I was asking could there be some inappropriate financial agreement between WF and McGills over fares for McGills.To Peter Wade if you are going to have the audacity to try and accuse Neil Kay of misinforming the public you better be prepared to put your money where your mouth is and provide the evidence for that ridiculous accusation.Don’t see that happening to be honest.

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  34. ‘Trigger’ – I’ve no idea what deal there is between WF & McGill’s, but I dislike the lack of transparency on commercial vehicle pricing. You could try asking them. With regard to your point about concessionary fares, I get the impression that the government makes up the difference so I don’t think any of these are ‘loss leaders’ to McGill’s in the same way that any special offers would be. I do wonder if there’s a marine safety issue if bus passengers – maybe elderly or disabled – remain in the bus for the ferry journey, but this happens on other short ferry routes as well.

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  35. Regarding commercial fares on the Western Ferries, I can tell you what I know.

    I have a 3.5 tonne van (no special license required) it’s length is in the 6-8 metre class.

    I have always travelled by road because I assumed it was substantially cheaper. 2 years ago I had to go to Inverkip for a job and obviously thought I should in this occasion travel by boat.

    I phoned W.F.for a quote, and was absolutely staggered to be told it was £110 return !!!!
    I said to the girl to double check because it is ony an Iveco XL wheelbase VAN. She confirmed £110. Icould however buy a book (I think containing 20 singles or 10 returns if you like) I would get half price for bulk buying, still a considerable outlay.

    I phoned Cal-Mac and was quoted £78 return.

    I’m pretty sure as this was commercial enquiry that VAT wasn’t included either making it another 20% dearer for non VAT’d people.

    I travel the Loch Eck road very regularly and there is a tremendous amount of heavy haulage on the road, I would imagine the vast majority of lorries travel by road, I can’t imagine the cost of an artic on the W.F.

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  36. Prices will be even higher now.

    I have just got a commercial quote for a van, return, Dover Calais with DFDS for £240 inc. VAT which I make £204 excluding VAT.

    The crossing is 90 minutes which is six time longer than WF.
    So the DFDS equivalent of the WF crossing is £34 (£204/6).
    In other words the WF crossing is over 3 times the cost of the DFDS crossing (£110/£34), based on time. The DFDS ships all have a cruising speed above 20knots, so in terms of distance the WF rate is even worse. On top of that DFDS has all sorts of facilities making the crossing more comfortable and so even better value.

    It would be interesting to know what the current WF fares are particularly for HGVs.

    We need competition on this route. High fares will feed through to all goods and services and also prevent the Firth of Clyde being used when the A83 is blocked.

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      • No, Caimbeul said Western charged £110, but CalMac (Cowal ferries) quoted £78. So WF were £32 or 41% more expensive.

        The CalMac price sounds a lot more reasonable for a van, and the vehicle portion of the service was still turning a profit.

        No doubt WF could charge a premium because of the poor timetable CalMac were forced to operate, commercial traffic cannot hang about (drivers to pay, goods to deliver). Now of course there is no competition at all.

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  37. On Cal/Mac bus passengers used to have to walk on and off the ferry via the gangplank while the bus boarded via the ramp.It used to be quite amusing watching a bunch of pensioners pushing there way to the front to be first on and off,so much for the good manners of the elderly.

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    • Trigger: what have you done!!! RW will start prattling on about gangways again.

      You have made an interesting comment though. The number of passengers on a ferry have to be accounted for. Strictly speaking it should not set sail until the master knows how many are aboard as he has to stay within the limits of his passenger certificate.

      Some statistics have been quoting foot passengers only (i.e. less those in vehicles) , but how did they get those figures particularly if they were passing bus passengers up the gangway?

      It sounds like the foot passenger only statistics must be some kind of guestimate rather than an actual record of usage.

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      • The number of vehicle passengers on Cowal Ferries was tallied up and the information passed verbally to the crew member who counted the boarding foot passengers, and I assume then passed on to the Bridge.

        As far as I am aware, passengers were never counted as they got off the ferry. If somone fell overboard who would know?

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        • That is pretty much as I thought, so a record was kept of the total number of passengers, but no record of how many were on foot and how many were in vehicles. This means that any statistics showing foot passengers only are a guestimate of some kind.

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  38. Peter eventually Cal/Mac were cheaper than WF for vehicles.Still waiting for you to provide evidence of Neil Kay misinformation to the public,cat got your tongue or have you realised it’s mission impossible/

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    • I believe CalMac did at one time offer discounts to regular commercial users to try to increase usage and profits on the already profitable vehicle portion of its service. My understanding is that WF somehow managed to stop that – can’t have competition.

      It would be good to know what WF’s current rates are for commercial vehicles particularly HGVs.

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      • I remember speaking to a local haulier who told me he had got a good deal from Cal-Mac. Western objected to Cal-Mac and the deal was cancelled.He then went by road every day to Glasgow as it was cheaper.

        A few years ago, I bought a Welsh dresser on the other side. I paid a small delivery fee and gave them 4 Western tickets for the van, assuming that 2 would cover each journey. On the day of the delivery, the driver called me and told me that Western would not accept 2 tickets for the journey and wanted £80 return for a large Transit van (18ft long). I had to quickly arrange a normal sized van (16ft) to cross over and meet him at McInroy’s Point and transfer the load. One ticket covered this van each way. At that time the total cost was about £15. £65 for an extra 2ft of van.

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  39. Gourock (my home) to Dunoon driving via Arrochar costs £15
    Gourock – Dunoon using Western – £10.50.

    Which represents better value for money?

    Scotrail Glasgow Queen St – Hyndland Single – £1.90
    Glasgow Queen St – Hyndland RETURN – £2.

    Who has the less fair fare structure?

    I will keep banging on about this. You are all wasting your time and energy trying to get another car ferry when until that happens, there is a very real risk that Western could take advantage of their years of hard work and effort setting up an exceptionally slick, reliable service and start charging a fortune to ALL.

    All this talk about Commercial rates is a distractor – Western are not focussed on HGVs. The fact is that should Western drop their HGV rates, ferryman et al would be shouting from the roofs because each HGV took the space of 4 or 5 cars and meant cars had to wait longer…ever thought about that?

    Wake up and smell the coffee. All it will take is another unfavourable (dare-i-say unfair) tax ruling, or the appointment of a new, short sighted, money focussed MD. If that happens and fares rocket, hell mend all those bleating on about another car ferry when you did nothing to try keep your fares ‘fair’.

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