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There is to be a consultation on the Scottish Ferries Review in Inveraray’s Argyll Hotel from 4.00pm – 7.00pm on Wednesday 25th March.
This review is being carried out by the Scottish Government as part of its consideration of enhancements to ferry services across all Scottish routes. The review will consider current provision of ferry services alongside identifying improvements to be made to meet future needs.
The review reflects the Government’s commitment, expressed in the 2006 National Transport Strategy (NTS), to ‘develop a long-term strategy for lifeline services to 2025′. The NTS committed the Government to carry out ‘a detailed appraisal of routes’. The appraisal is to be used to determine whether a better system could be developed to deliver new and faster connections serving isolated communities. It will also assist in the reviewing of fare structures as part of the affordability of public transport.
Everyone interested is invited and is welcome to come along to the drop-in event in Inveraray on 25th March, meet members of the review team, find out more about the review and add your views to the pool of information being put together.
Information on the Review is on the Scottish Government website.
Citylink, which had contracted West Coast Motors as operators on its route between Glasgow and Campbeltown and Glasgow and Oban, attempted to force the Argyll company to accept a lower value contract when it came up for renewal. West Coast Motors refused and operated the routes itself, with Citylink then running a duplicate service and engaging in drastic fare-cutting to try to force them to back down or go out of business.
Argyll stayed faithful to its own company, seeing most Citylink buses running the routes virtually empty. In the end it was the mighty Stagecoach subsidiary that blinked first, agreeing terms acceptable to West Coast Motors and retiring from the duplicate service.
However, it seems to be payback time now, with passengers bearing the brunt of Citylink’s revenge.
A service running the length of Argyll to Glasgow – from Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre, up the long peninsula to Lochgilphead, across Mid Argyll and the head of the Cowal peninsula and down the west side of Loch Lomond into Glasgow – will usually require more than one bus on the main morning and evening services.
Previously the route was shadowed by a second bus on the stage between Lochgilphead and Glasgow or Inveraray and Glasgow on the days and times where operating experience could predict the need.
Now the route runs with a single bus and passengers are required to pre-book tickets – and pay a pre-booking fee – to ensure a place. Otherwise they may not be allowed to board if seats are scarce or they may be, in the aggressive language of the bus companies, ‘thrown off’ to make way for those en route with pre-booked seats.
The problem is that the arrangements for pre-booking require either an online capability, know-how and a credit card or going physically in advance to either of the main terminals or to Tourist Offices in the main towns en route.
Argyll has an ageing population who tend to form the majority of passengers using the service. Many have no computer, no online access, no know-how and many do not have a credit card.
Argyll also has a highly dispersed population with few large towns – so between Glasgow and Campbeltown many passengers need to join the bus from one of the many small villages or townships. How are they to get to a Tourist Office in their nearest larger town to book a ticket, except on a bus they may not be allowed to board?
What is happening today is that people are being left behind as a bus refuses to take them or is already full. Some are having to get off buses. In both cases there have been instances of risk to young people who, travelling alone, have been left behind or asked to leave.
The situation at the weekend only has been alleviated, because of families needing to go to Glasgow to shop in the run up to Christmas. Weekend services are now running a second bus on the relevant section of the route.
Weekday services remain an unpleasant, stressful and uncertain means of transport, with many unable to keep the appointments necessitating their journey. Some are forced to use their cars – at a time when people are being urged to make use of public transport as an energy saving strategy and at a time when the UK Government has just increased fuel duty.
According to West Coast Motors, Scottish Citylink, the lead company on the route, is in the driving seat and is refusing to run a second bus on the necessary part of the route. Some believe that the company is trying to claw back the revenue it lost in its failed attempt to force west Coast Motors off the road. Some believe it is punishing passengers from Argyll for supporting their home company in the earlier dispute.
Either way, the service is completely unacceptable and it is leaving vulnerable people open to an indefensible risk in being left behind.
Concern and anger is widespread. For Argyll has had sight of formal communications being sent from responsible local bodies to Argyll and Bute Council and to Councillors on the matter.
The Council is a major stakeholder and, to a degree, a paymaster in Argyll’s transport services. It is time to flex that muscle in the interests of its electors.
A report commissioned by the Scottish Government and published yesterday criticised the bus access to Kilmartin Glen In Argyll, with over 350 ancient monuments. The report, concerned with improving access to cultural activities in Scotland, noted that Kilmartin Museum had only a limited bus service with ‘inconsistent timetabling’ from its provider, West Coast Motors. It also highlighted less than satisfactory public information on this service which runs between Lochgilphead and Oban. A major conclusion of the report is that a low priority on public transport access to cultural sites and activities excludes a large number of potential customers. With Scottish tourism revenues from the UK and elsewhere targeted for a rise of 50% by 2015, this is a ball that cannot be dropped.
Photo left is of the Nether Largie Stones in Kilmartin Glen and is by Terry A McDonald, Creative Commons licence.