Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Submission to ferry review

Dear Sirs,

I am emailing with reference to the Scottish Ferries Review Consultation, which is currently taking place across the Western Isles. I would like to submit comments on routes pertaining to the Outer Hebrides (from Barra to Lewis).

Stornoway to Ullapool

1) The RET pilot currently in operation on this route has brought about a welcome reduction in fares. One of my concerns is whether the reduced fares for commercial vehicles are passed on by haulage firms to retail outlets and ultimately us, the consumer. I am not under the impression that prices came tumbling down in Stornoway's shops in the wake of the commencement of RET, late in 2008. I would like to ask that this be investigated; if it is, I apologise.

2) Stornoway to Ullapool only has a ferry service on 6 days each week, with no service on Sundays, except when adverse weather conditions or technical problems with the vessel require a catch-up run on the Sabbath. Whilst recognising the religious sensitivities surrounding this issue, I feel that the inconsistencies surrounding public transport to and from the islands in the Western Isles are beginning to reach the level of ridicule, and should be ironed out. Why can North Uist, South Uist and Barra have a Sunday service to the mainland? Why is there a ferry service between Harris (geographically contiguous with Lewis) and Berneray (North Uist)? If Sabbath observance precludes the sailing of the vessel from Stornoway to Ullapool and back, why are planes flying in and out of the airport at Stornoway?

3) I am aware the current set-up on this route, with one passenger vessel (the MV Isle of Lewis) and one freight ferry (the MV Muirneag) is regarded as far from ideal. With the MV Isle of Lewis nearly 15 years old, and MV Muirneag 30 years old (under various names), the provision of a new vessel (or two vessels) on this route, with sufficient capacity to carry the freight requirements for Lewis and Harris, possibly with a faster journey, should be moved up the agenda.

South Uist / Barra
In recent times, a discussion has been on-going about relocating the mainland terminal for ferry services from these islands from Oban to Mallaig. Sailings from Lochboisdale (South Uist) to Mallaig only take 3½ hours, as opposed to the 6 hours a sailing to Oban takes. The difference with regards to Castlebay is slightly less. The long journey out of Lochboisdale frequently prompts South Uist residents to divert north to Lochmaddy to take the ferry to Uig (Skye) - which incidentally requires a 225 mile drive to Glasgow, on top of the 40 mile journey within the islands.

Opponents of this move argue that Oban is closer to major centres in Scotland (like Glasgow) than Mallaig, which is true. Mallaig to Glasgow is 149 miles, and takes more than 3 hours by car. Oban to Glasgow is 97 miles and takes an hour less to cover by road. The recently upgraded A830 road between Mallaig and Fort William (now double-track all the way) should decrease journey times though.

There should be an objective assessment whether the longer road-journey  is outweighed by the shorter ferry journey. Recent arguments surrounding this issue have been based less on facts than sentiments.

I trust my comments will make a small but constructive contribution towards the provision of a better ferry service in these islands.


  1. At the (unwished-for) risk of starting the debate up again, may I add a personal impression ...?

    Why must everything always be *standard* ...?
    And I'm referring to the view of 'they've got it so why can't we ... ?' ...

    Life is *not* standard, and people are not standard ...
    A huge flaw in the benighted legal system is that its main point is to 'standardise' everything, and here it's evident that the effort to standardise results in many anomalies ...

    Will the service be better if it's 'standardised' ...?

    There is a rather rude saying 'a million flies can't be wrong', but they *are*, because people, mammals, insects and everything else in the world are not 'standard' ...

    On a more informational note, I have heard from reliable sources that the ferry prices are going to go up in April of this year ...

    Does anyone know more about this, or the reasons for it ...?

  2. Soaplady,
    I'm not pleading for a Sunday ferry for the sake of being like everybody else. It is, like I said on Sunday and again in the email, because there are glaring inconsistencies in policy.

    Calmac's Summer Timetable shows NO change in fares on the Stornoway - Ullapool route.

  3. Why are you so concerned about inconsistencies Arnish? CALMACOCD perhaps :)

    Seriously, do you personally require a ferry to run on a sunday or do you just have a proverbial seillan in your sgrogaid about the issue for the hell of it? (excuse the pun).

    I can help answer your question though. Loganair didn't give a damn about Sunday flights as long as they could make money. No law exists to stop them and demand is enough for a flight a day. CalMac think otherwise.

  4. Mike,
    Personally, I am a very rare ferry user. I am flying the flag for the many people who work away from the island and would like to be able to come home for the weekend. And can't at the moment. It drives people away, leaving Lewis with an ageing population.

    I am concerned with inconsistencies because should anyone wish to take this to court, the Sunday ferry will be here very soon.

  5. Haha, so you hardly use the ferry and here you are banging a drum?!! You must be bored like BM ;)

    Well, it's very altruistic of you a'graidh but what about flying the flag for the many people who would like things left the way they are? It's not the ferry that drives people away it's the lack of jobs and as for the ageing population then blame all these retirees moving up from down south flush with money from selling up their homes and looking for the good life. Can't blame them either but the ferry brings as many as leaves.

    And a court case can't force Calmac to sail on a Sunday, if anything I forsee legal action against the sailings :)

    Looking forward to the head to head when it comes...

  6. Arnish, that's a well reasoned and, in my view, well balanced submission. And, prompted by your posting, I shall now publish the submission I have made today.

  7. [...] a lead from Arnish Lighthouse this evening, I’m publishing a transcript of my own submission today to the Scottish [...]

  8. Mike - "flush with money" - that won't include me then!

  9. Well, if you want to buy a house outside the Cearns you'd better start saving Les ;)

  10. Arnish..well done for putting a reasoned argument forward. Guessed it might draw a little flak but sooner ot later common sense will prevail and then people can chose to use the facility or stay home or go to church or blog!..RJG

  11. Hello Arnish.
    The tone of your blog seems more than a little indignant, almost as if you are demanding that your personal issues are answered. The sunday ferry issue sometimes gets a bit heated, but i wouldn't want to see groups of demonstrators for either side throwing placards at each other. A lot of good people with strong religious commitments have concerns about this and need to be heard just as much as those of us who would like sunday ferries. This includes me- as it happens i agree with most of what you say, but i would prefer to see it put to a vote - i discuss this futher in TWS blog. If the result of such a vote was for sunday sailings, i'm sure calmac would oblige, and we would know it is what the islands' residents want.

  12. Does anyone know how many crew are needed for each ferry trip? 30? 50? Would those crew, if willing to work on a Sunday, demand overtime pay or a change in their contractural agreements? And what about all the staff needed for the port authority and ferry terminal.

    Is CalMac actually making any money without being subsidised? Would a Sunday ferry service "pay its way" in the long term, or would some other day have to have the service cut to allow for a Sunday sailing?

    Just some of the pertinent questions that come to mind.

  13. John,
    Some crew already work on the vessel on a Sunday (I have a good view of proceedings at the ferry terminal from my position). Calmac runs at an annual loss of £32 million, which is covered by subsidies (i.e. the taxpayer) from the Scottish Government. This service is a life-line service, which will always run (subject to weather and technical conditions), irrespective of whether it makes profit or loss.
    I cannot answer your query on staffing levels ashore or on board, but I feel sure that Calmac will apply their T&C's which are already in force across the rest of its network, when their ships operate on Sunday.