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.