Ferries and fares on The Ileach’s Letters page

The latest edition of The Ileach, the fortnightly newspaper for Islay, has a very interesting collection of letters on issues around ferries and fares.

It seems that in recent editions Alan Reid MP and local LibDem Councillor, Robin Currie have been displaying their inability to understand how Road Equivalent Tariff fares work. They have evidently been complaining about how little a real saving RET offers compared to the price per ticket achievable on the former discount available on a book of six.

The point is that RET fares are calculated on a distance basis so discounts cannot be applied to multiple tickets.

One letter, from Douglas Tott, focuses on the range of complaints about the RET fares Islay now enjoys. Another, from Jack Fleming and Paul Graham, explains how the proposed Islay Community Ferry would work and asks for a show of support at a public meeting this Wednesday – 24th October -  at 7.30pm at Ionad Chaluim Chille Ile.

One matter in this letter we do not understand is that it declares that this ferry would be operated by the Scottish Government – which must surely mean by CalMac – ‘in conjunction with at least one CalMac ferry’ and, along with CalMac, charging RET fares.

If this can be said in a public letter with such absolute certainty it must mean that it has already been agreed with the Scottish Government -  in advance of the publication of the final ferries provision policy to be contained in the as yet unpublished Scottish Ferries Review. Cart before horse?

If this is indeed what has happened, we are back in the land of amateur government where procedural integrity is at a genuine discount. Saddle up for the OK Corral, folks.

Sandwiched between these letters, is a totally fascinating proposition for the man who invented Road Equivalent Tariff pricing, Roy Pedersen from Inverness.

Mr Pedersen says that frequency of service and journey times are more powerful builders of ferry traffic than fares.

He spells out the results of moving the Islay-Jura ferry service to the short run across the Sound of Jura from Keills in Knapdale to Lagg on Jura, just north of Craighouse, on upgraded roads to Keills and from Lagg to Feolin for the short ferry across the Sound of Islay to Port Askaig.

He quickly tots up the cost of building the new CalMac ferry, Finlaggan, for the two and a quarter hour run from Kennacraig to Port Ellen; and of making modifications to the harbours at Port Ellen and Port Askaig to enable them to handle this bigger ferry. It comes, he says, to around £40 million.

That, he shows, should cover the cost – £4 million – of buying a Sea Transport Corporation 35 vehicle ferry for the Keills-Lagg route, leaving £36 million to cover the road upgrades and the two terminals involved.

Mr Pedersen identifies the benefits of this route – which being  short, would be high frequency, as:

  • cutting journey times between Lochgilphead and Islay by 35 minutes to Port Ellen and by over an hour to Port Askaig;
  • offering achievable day returns for business meetings in the Central Belt or in Oban;
  • doubling the daily vehicle-shifting capacity;
  • cutting ferry fares to 50% below RET – and Mr Pedersen does know what he’s talking about here;
  • substantially reducing or even eliminating the need for state subsidy;
  • cutting carbon emissions per car for the journey by six sevenths

This is the sort of unfettered visionary thinking that really floats our boat.

And what Mr Pedersen does not mention is the serious economic benefit this route could bring to the Isle of Jura – not only in access frequency, speed and fare costs for its own residents and visitors – but to Craighouse businesses. Just the right place to stop at a great coffee shop, lunch at te Antlers Bistro, a visit to the Jura Distillery, dinner at the Jura Hotel…

Too late – but let’s hear a lot more ideas from the innovative Roy Pedersen.

Note: The Ileach is available via an online subscription as a downloadable pdf.

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42 Responses to Ferries and fares on The Ileach’s Letters page

  1. The ‘overland’ route to Islay via Tayvallch, Keills, Lagg, Craighouse and Feolin has been bandied about for decades, with at least one detailed proposal for a ferry terminal at Keills.
    One problem is the vehicle traffic – even if it were to be just cars and small vans the roads beyond Tayvallich, and on Jura, would need major improvements. And there would still have to be a ferry from Kennacraig, for the substantial hgv traffic – which, if diverted to the ‘overland’ route, would need major road improvements from Cairnbaan to Tayvallich and totally new roads from Tayvallich to Keills and on Jura.
    I recollect strong objection from residents of Tayvallich to the development of a major traffic route through Knapdale. Maybe the benefits to Jura people swung public opinion there in favour, but I don’t know for sure.

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    • The last time the Keills Lagg route was mooted, there were also strong objections from some Dhuireachs – complaining about the possibility of traffic jams.
      And that, we think, was for a much smaller capacity ferry than 35 vehicles.

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  2. To correct the impression the ferry would be operated by Scottish Government. The ferry would be guaranteed by the Scottish Government in that they would have to offer a seven year time charter to the community company. There has been no Government decision. The community has to demonstrate to the government it wishes to persue this route to safeguard a two ferry service and not sit back and do nothing. Only then can we get government to look at the proposal, no guarantee of achieving the goal.
    Reference Roy Petersons letter. My late father and many others since the early 1970′s have been pressing for an Overland Route but were “stymied” at every turn by National & Local Government. If the proposals were adopted all these years ago we would now have a world class service and better roads on Jura. Some Jura residents voted against it but look at the present day. If you want to get to Jura by public transport your only year round option is to catch the 1300hrs sailing to Port Askaig. The later boats offer no public transport connections to Jura and the earlier sailings involve an hour long bus journey from Port Ellen. Not very 21st century.

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  3. Firstly our ferry service is excellent as it is and may need a few small alterations but the massive changes some people talk about are not realistic and will never happen, secondly the price of our new return tickets at the new discounted rate is very fair indeed for the service provided.
    The last point in the above comment sums up why such big changes are both beyond us and unrealistic, as it stands we cannot even provide proper public transport connections between ferry ports and villages around the island so what chance of doing this on 2 islands over double the distance? Also the “hour long bus journey from Port Ellen” works both ways and is the same in the opposite direction from Port Askaig, and people want to increase this to cover 2 islands? No public transport option is financially viable because costs cannot be covered by the low number of customers, only the school contract helps keep any bus service going in its current capacity, it cannot cope with increased demand without increased income which I doubt very much any changes to ferries would make.
    On the subject of R.E.T., our new prices are a discounted fare but not R.E.T. for one simple reason this cannot be denied, the routes to Port Ellen and to Port Askaig are 2 different distances yet the fares are the same! this is not possible on a R.E.T. scheme. Dress it up any way you want but that is the fact so it should not be referred to as R.E.T.
    We have a great service and now at a great price, we should be happy with it but some people you just can’t please.

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  4. In reply to Gavin.
    Yes we have a good service now but what happens when the Hebridean Isles reaches her 30th birthday…..will the government spend £5M re-certificating he? I think not. The community proposal is for the future to safeguard a two vessel service for Islay.
    I agree it should never be called RET. The price difference between the new fares and the old 6 journey ticket is £2.00 so no great benefit to islanders who used to buy 6 journey books. That said it should help increase tourism to the islands.

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    • I see no reason at all for the 2 ferry service to be reduced and have not heard anything to suggest that it will be, are fears of this based on statements and evidence provided from the service operators or just the usual doom and gloom scaremongering? Why would a busy service be removed?
      The 6 journey ticket always was a discounted option so there was no expectation of it being further reduced, neither did anyone suggest that it would be. The new fare now allows tickets to be purchased at a low cost whether it is for one journey or 6 journeys. The 6 journey ticket was a good saving for those that could afford it, a lot of folk though could not justify or afford to shell out that amount of money for what was already an expensive trip, now everyone has the same service for the same price, surely a fairer set-up.

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  5. Not disagreeing with the fares.
    As I already said when the Hebridean Isles reaches 30 years of age there is no guarantee of monies being spent to keep her in service, look at the Isle of Arran in “warm lay up”, lying unused even when breakdowns have occurred.
    What we want to do is safeguard the two vessel service now and not wait 2 or 3 years to be told one vessel is being removed. Prevention is better than cure.
    It is well known that there is no money “sloshing around” in government bank accounts. This MAY be a way forward to get new tonnage on ferry routes when the vessels each the end of their working life.

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    • yes, so what you are saying is that there is no evidence to suggest the removal of a vessel. Speculation, rumour and number-thumping only adds to the creation of fear and worry of a vessel being removed, hard facts however work so much better.

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      • So you would rather just wait and see if a vessel goes.
        Give me one good reason why a 30 year old vessel would be kept on the route. There is no money to increase longevity of the fleet.
        Sitting back and doing nothing achieves nothing. I would like to be able to try protect my income stream in the future.

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        • If the 30 year old vessel is needed it will be kept running or replaced if money is available. I see your reasoning but I just cannot understand why there is a desire to go chasing a problem that is not there. I am assuming you do the same with the local plane, do you go to Mundells regularly to ensure he keeps improving his fleet of lorries? the council to get the roads better? the local shops? hotels to upgrade to allow more visitors to come? strangely enough out of those I have mentioned it is only our ferry service that recently seems to have been moving forward.
          All I am saying is that there is no problem there, if there is a demand for a service that service will be provided, if there is not demand then it will be reduced, that’s how any business works as you know. I have lived here all my life and never had a problem getting on or off the island, might not be the first ferry I want but its never even been a need to change days, just times, ad even that is not often, and I have no reason to thing that will change.

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  6. We want, we want… In one breath cheap fares and RET is good, money is needed for replacement vessels, millions spent on roads and upgrages, two vessel services, improved public bus services.

    Does nobody watch the news? Is there denial we’re in a terrible financial state as a country? Where, exactly, is all this money supposed to come from? Schools, hospitals, the police, care for the elderly?? Its clear nobody has any interest in actually paying a bit more to use the services and hands up all those who would support higher taxes…

    Cutting waste from the public sector and becoming more efficient is the answer everyone cries… Oh, hang on, isn’t that being tried in the Northern Isles? How dare they cut services that barely get used, or trim a few staff so there’s less likelihood they outnumber passengers.

    And RET has proven to be a daft idea in practice. Many of us on the Western Isles would gladly see the back of it – the place is awash with freeloading camper tourists loaded to the roof with food and fuel, spending no money and using all the space on the sailings. But there’s no money to increase sailings or put on bigger boats. And as usefully pointed out, hasn’t made it any cheaper for an islander than it was before. And the stuff that really needs to get to and from the islands – you know, groceries, building stuff, essential things that keep us employed and happy that generally arrive on a lorry… well, thats excluded and the prices are rocketing.

    Maybe we do need the radical thinking about routes that Mr Pederson is advocating. If it can improve the accessibility of places and result in a much smaller need for subsidy long term then we need to think about the greater good.

    Gavin’s comment that “big changes are both beyond us and unrealistic” is a sad indictment of the state of our once proud nation.

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  7. I have been in contact with Mr Pedersen regarding his calculations for cutting the journey time from Lochgilphead to Islay by 35 mins to Port Ellen and over one hour to Port Askaig.
    Mr Pedersen has admitted by email (in black and white) that he did his calculations prior to the introduction of the Finlaggan on the Islay Route.
    Mr Pedersen has also emailed me a copy of his original pre Finlaggan calculations.
    If Mr Pedersen had carried out his calculations after the introduction of the Finlaggan to the Islay route the time savings would be Port Askaig 37 mins and Port Ellen 17 mins.
    However if a car driver arrives at Lagg or Keills and they are 36th car or later in the queue then these time savings go “out of the window” as the driver would have to wait a further 60 mins for the ferry to return to allow the car driver to make the crossing.

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  8. Paul.
    I do not agree with your Community Ferry proposal.
    In your original presentation to Islay Community Council which was reported in the previous edition of the Ileach you stated that you would be looking for Private Investors.
    If you have a shortfall in takings at the end of a financial year then it is up to the private investors to make up the shortfall not the Scottish Government (taxpayers).

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  9. Douglas, Unfortunately the report from ICC was a little inaccurate. Finance would be raised via conventional routes.
    You may not like the community ferry proposal but do you have an alternative suggestion?

    This is not Cal Mac bashing as some seem to think this is about our future ferry services because at the moment their is no plan going forward i.e. a three year extension to further explore the consultation that was the unpublished Ferry Review.

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  10. Paul.
    The alternative plan is to leave things as they are.
    At present we have effectively 4 return trips daily from Monday to Friday with 5 return trips commencing start of December 2012.
    I have spoken to various Islay residents and have yet to find one who is in favour of your Islay Community Ferry scheme. Most people are happy with the current Cal Mac timetable.
    What would happen if Cal Mac refuse to allow the Islay Community Ferry Company to use the Cal Mac owned piers at Port Ellen and Kennacraig. Are you planning to construct your own terminal buildings for ticket office, waiting room and toilets.
    I will not be able to attend your meeting tomorrow night at ICC but I would vote No against an Islay Community Ferry in any future referendum.

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  11. Douglas this is NOT about now, this is about the future when there is a real danger of being reduced to a single vessel service.
    The current service is adequate but not perfect. Many hotels & B&B’s have empty rooms at weekends in summer as there is not enough capacity on and off the island on a Saturday, specifically. The only reason we have a new service off the island (1230 five days per week, winter timetable) is because the ferry users group put a watertight case to Cal Mac about tonnage reduction by the removal of Finlaggan for winter.

    The piers and harbours are owned by the Scottish Government under the banner of CMAL. If for example another private operator wanted to set up a service it would be deemed by law, anti competitive to refuse use or charge higher harbour dues. Furthermore if the Scottish Government were to offer a charter it would seem strange then to refuse use of the piers and harbours they own.
    It is unfortunate you are unable to attend tomorrow as you would be able to make a balanced judgement on all the facts and not the small amount of information already in the public domain.
    I supporting this idea because I want to see the island prosper in the future.

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  12. Paul.
    I think that there is another reason why there is an extra round trip sailing this winter from Port Ellen and it has nothing to do with the ferry users group.
    However I intend to keep my theory to myself.
    I do not understand why you are panicking about the Islay route being reduced to a single vessel service. Last June a new ferry was commissioned to take over in June 2014 on the Stornoway to Ullapool route with the Isle of Lewis possibly taking over on the Mull route. This would leave the Isle of Mull free to be used on any other route such as the Islay route as the piers will be able to allow her to dock.
    I would suggest that you speak to the bosses at Cal Mac regarding their plans for the Islay route before attempting to start an Islay Community Ferry Company.

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  13. I fear we are heading in the direction again we were thirty odd years ago when certain people got involved to try to oust Cal-mac from Islay. The majority then supported the status quo and I hope the same will apply now. We have an excellent service as it is so why disrupt it. I think all the clamour for this ferry is from those with a vested interest and not for the sake of the locals.

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  14. Douglas, the Isle of Mull is 25 years old, the Lord of the Isles 23 years old. The Scottish Ferries Division published a report (and reported at the ferries review discussion in the Columba centre)that stated that at the current rate of replacement, within 5-7 years there will not be enough vessels to service the existing contract. It took ten years of talking and planning to get the Finlaggan, it will take 4 years from decision to delivery of the new Lewis ferry.

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    • As I have pointed out before replacement of ferries is a major issue for all users and how this would be achieved has been completely side-stepped by the Scottish Government;

      “Future Procurement Issues
      17. In the consultation document we undertook to consider how ferry services are tendered in the future. The Scottish Government is engaged in a reform programme for public sector procurement which is intended to enhance economic impact and value for money as well as diversify sources of procurement such as social enterprise. WITHIN THIS CONTEXT WE WILL PUBLISH A SEPARATE POLICY STATEMENT ON OUR FUTURE APPROACH TO FERRIES PROCUREMENT”.

      The Government is also telling us;
      “The Scottish Government’s capital budget will bear the harshest reduction, with a real terms cut of 36.7 per cent; this has a direct impact on our ability to fund
      new vessels and major harbour projects.”

      At the same time the term “lifeline” is not defined instead Transport Scotland assess (and will re-assess) the needs of each community.

      Put the three things together and you don’t get a pretty picture. We have not been told how vessels will be funded, just warned that there is not enough money, which means the needs of the community will be adjusted to fit the budget.

      Mind blowing sums can be found for bridges, trains and trams, why are ferries not considered an important part of our transport infrastructure?

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      • Of course they’re an important part of our transport infrastructure, and the chickens will eventually come home to roost – but don’t forget that Western Ferries started off their very successful Clyde shuttle with second hand boats from the Baltic, Amsterdam harbour and the Solent.
        As far as I’m aware Calmac have always commissioned new ships (save for the likes of the Lewis and Shetland & Orkney freight ferries) – but that is likely to change.
        Just like Eastern European countries, broke after the collapse of communism, buying cheap second and third hand trams from West Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Holland. One consolation – second hand ferries from elsewhere might just be better designed than some of Calmac’s creations over the years.

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  15. I wonder how much the overall cost of replacing life-expired boats could be reduced by having a dedicated ferry-building yard in Scotland with a steady construction programme (given the steady ageing of the ferry fleet) with guaranteed continuity of work (given the size of the ferry fleet) and providing steady employment, with the opportunity for steady design development of more economical, fuel- and crew-efficient boats? (to say nothing of taxes being retained in this country).
    Presumably illegal under European competition regulations?
    Unless, I suspect, you happen to be France or Germany, or another country that seems to take a more robust view of European rules than Britain does?

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    • Love it. Unfortunately Eurocrats would not. Maybe we could become French or German for a few days to get the legislation through.
      I seem to remember Ferries Review meeting on Islay came up with a replacement figure for harbours and ships at circa £900M over the next ten years.

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      • More wondering – what if there was a legal challenge to the European competition requirements if it could be proved that they’re pushing up the cost of ferry provision?
        Not just the ‘European human rights’ (for want of a better description) of the ferry users and taxpayers of this country, the ‘duty of care’ of our governments for the economic wellbeing of this country.
        Rigorously but cynically applying European legislation in the full knowledge that it’s not in the best interests of the people must surely be vulnerable to legal challenge.

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  16. I am surprised that Newsroom has not passed a comment about Mr Pedersen’s flawed calculations considering newsroom considered him to have visionary thinking.

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  17. A very interesting public meeting last night with an overwhelming majority(96%) in favour of the proposal. Next step is the Islay Community Council meeting.

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  18. Paul.
    Celtic at home against Barcelona or the Islay Community Council AGM in the Gaelic College on Wednesday 7th November 2012. That is a “no-brainer”. I will be watching the Celtic v Barcelona game. Too bad that you will have to be at the Islay Community Council AGM that night.

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  19. Robert.
    I am Dundee FC supporter who attends the Dundee FC home games whenever I am back visiting relatives in Dundee. I also enjoy watching football on television either live or recorded.

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  20. Paul.
    It is disappointing that you failed to answer my question regarding the how many members of the public attended the meeting.
    According to last Saturday’s Ileach (3rd November) there were 28 members of the public at the meeting with 27 voting in favour and one absention.
    To put this into perspective there are 3,200 residents on Islay and less than 1% attended the meeting.
    This poor turnout shows that the vast majority of the residents on Islay are happy with the current ferry service provided by CalMac.

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