[Updated below 00.15 23rd September] Transport Minister, Derek Mackay has just announced an enhanced ferry service provision for the west coast Clyde and Hebridean network for and from the summer of 2016.
The Minister says: ‘This enhanced timetable offers a number of improvements: proposals include increasing capacity on certain services, offering more sailings and reorganising vessel deployment to get the most from our ferry fleet.
‘It will also help manage the expected increase demand from the full roll out of Road Equivalent Tariff [RET], which gives island residents and visitors access to significantly reduced fares.
‘We have also placed an order for two new major vessels and their delivery in 2018 will represent further enhancements to West Coast ferry services.’
Specific proposed enhancements are to be:
- A daily direct return service between Oban-Barra with a dedicated vessel, delivering a considerable increase in capacity.
- A daily direct return service between Lochboisdale-Mallaig using a dedicated vessel.
- An additional 50 weekly sailings on the Oban-Craignure route, with additional vessels supplementing the MV Isle of Mull. This means Oban will become a commutable destination from Mull for the first time.
- 10% more sailings on the Mallaig-Armadale route.
- Over 30% increase in capacity on services to Coll, Tiree and Colonsay.
The absence from this list of Islay is immediately noticeable – suggesting that this is a destination clearly seen as well catered for with no need for increased summer seasonal capacity.
Drew Collier, CalMac’s, director of operations, Drew Collier says: ‘The two vessel service on the Oban-Craignure route, serving Mull, will balance off the additional capacity issues we would expect due to Road Equivalent Tariff [RET] fares being introduced on this service.’
The key material change that has made this major revision of vessel deployments possible is the availability of the MV Isle of Lewis, now surplus to requirements with her service on the Stornoway-Ullapool route taken over by the new superferry, MV Loch Seaforth.
While there will be protest in the Western Isles at her departure, it looks as if the Isle of Lewis will be deployed as a second boat on the Oban-Craignure service to Mull. Being able to overnight one boat at each port will make possible what is to become the first ‘fully commutable service between Mull and the mainland’ – a definite boost to the local economy of Mull.
The doughty MV Clansman will become the dedicated boat mentioned by the Minister, serving the run from Oban to Barra; with the elderly MV Lord of the Isles [LOTI] the dedicated boat deployed to the Mallaig-Lochboisdale service. LOTI is the next vessel to be replaced after MV Isle of Arran and the Hebridean Isles – whose successor are the two new major boats currently being contracted by CMAL to Ferguson Marine at Port Glasgow.
The promised 30% increase in capacity for Tiree, Coll and Colonsay may be delivered by additional sailings; while the 10% more sailings on the Mallaig-Armadale route will be done by sailing the MV Coruisk more frequently.
It will be immediately noticed in Campbeltown and Kintyre that while the parallel pilot service run between Mallag and Lochboisdale in South Uist is clearly being given the go-ahead with a dedicated vessel and a daily sailing, there is still no mention of the fate of the three year pilot, now concluded, between Ardrossan and Campbeltown.
The timetable for this pilot summer service was laughable in its complete inattention to facilitating incoming traffic to Campbeltown but supporting lifestyle in Kintyre by offering convenient outward services, including a return-in-a-day service everyFriday to enable local residents to do their weekly shopping in Ardrossan or, from the Ardrossan railhead – in Glasgow.
The carrying figures for this service over its first two years [the 2015 carryings have yet to be released, with the coming weekend, 27th September, the close of this season and of the pilot period] were:
- Passengers: 2013: 9,824; 2014: 11,343.
- Cars: 2013: 1,950; 2014: 2,236.
- Coaches: 2013: 3; 2014: 12.
- Commercial vehicles: 2013: 12; 2014: 31.
Ignore the first year – any new service has a warm up period.
In 2014, however, the better of the two initial years’ performance, its carryings were achieved in seven individual sailings a week over a 20 week period – a total of 140 sailings. The Isle of Arran’s capacity is 448 passengers and 76 cars, making 25 sailings – not the actual 140 – capable of carrying the full numbers carried in that season – of passengers, cars, coaches and commercial vehicles. This is just under 81% overcapacity.
Ardrossan-Campbeltown [with one weekly call at Brodick in Arran from the Kintyre end] – is not a lifeline service.
- The A83/A82 trunk road carries road traffic including a 4 hour five a day return service in each direction between Campbeltown and Glasgow in the summer season [otherwise 4 returns a day in each direction’;
- The are two 45 minute daily air returns between Glasgow and Campbeltown, morning and late afternoon each day, Monday to Friday, year round.
Yet what is not a lifeline ferry service – and, as it has been timetabled, an arguably useless and indefensibly expensive one, is run at pub;ic expense in a three year pilot with no trialling, year year, of the impact of revisions to the timetable. The timetable that has been operated is informally known as ‘the Semple timetable’, in commemoration of the local councillor who virtually dictated it, thinking only of the lifestyle of residents and not at all of the economic development that is crucial to this beautiful but remote peninsula.
Reason and financial responsibility would dictate that this pilot will not be continued – but, with the Scottish Election in ay 2016 and a possible second referendum on independence a very live issue, pr prediction is that this pilot will become a permanent service – and that this is being kept for a single special vote-grabbing announcement in a strategic moment.
This prediction is supported by the fact that the Mallaig-Lochboisdale pilot is continuing to permanent service – despite having even worse carrying figures than Ardrossan-Campbeltown.
This is an interesting case, though. There are long standing cultural links between the South Uist and Mallaig, through what had been the traditional ferry route to the mainland until it was discontinued earlier.
It is also the shortest route and therefore the most cost efficient. There is no persuasive financial or lifeline case to be made for having two ferry routes between Lochboisdale and the mainland. The logical thing would be to discontinue the much longer passage from Oban – but this is highly unlikely to be done for political reasons.
Update 00. 15 23rd September: The online Island News is carrying here the local response to the news of the confirmed Mallaig-Lochboisdale Service and it is understandably ecstatic. Donald Manford, Councillor for South UIst and Barra, is quoted as saying: ‘It’s absolutely marvellous news. We have been pursuing this ambition to have a dedicate link between Lochboisdale and Mallaig since it was axed 14 years ago, and for a dedicated service between Castlebay and Oban.’
Asked by the Island News what stopping the service between Lochboisdale and Oban would mean, the councillor said: ‘There have been a vast amount of well-attended public meetings on this and the consistent response is that the community would rather have Mallaig as their mainland port of choice.’