An open letter to Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac.
Sir, On Monday August 20, up to 448 passengers were given just 16 hours notice that their ferry tickets for the MV Isle of Arran were useless for the booked sailings. CalMac then advised passengers the Arran ferry terminal had shut their IT booking systems down because of information-overload and it could take up to a week to sort out.
First, CalMac call centre staff at the sharp end, answering the telephones, dealing with upset and anxious customers, should be highly commended. A difficult job for ferry firm folk. From the five conversations I had, all of your CalMac staff handled these challenging situations calmly, professionally and with good grace. But Mr Drummond, this should not be happening. CalMac have been in the business since 1851. If the ships aren’t running properly after 167 years of trying to get this right, then when?
The MV Isle of Arran will be off for days and thousands of passengers will be let down to some degree. On top of this, there is ‘the list’. CalMac customer complaints that regularly grace this letter’s page in the Arran Banner. For example: (i) Brodick Ferry Terminal being a significant problem for folk who have a disability; (ii) The profligate waste of £30m for a ferry terminal that should cost no more than £6m to build; (iii) The £100m cost of taxpayer funding for overly large ferries which are obscenely too expensive and oversized for the Arran service; (iv) the significant docking problem and missed sailings that will happen at Ardrossan when the MV Glen Sannox and MV Corporate Ego can’t get into the mainland port because of the massive sail area on the slab-sided vessels; (v) the millions of pounds in wasted fuel by carting crew accommodation on the ship’s structure like some massive wet caravan, when the shipping operator would reduce the taxpayer burden by providing crew houses in Ardrossan and Brodick; (vi) the historic senior management failure in preparing for Road Equivalent Tariff traffic growth. The list goes on and on. Enough to fill a whole edition of the Arran Banner.
Mr Drummond, you have a very impressive CV: CalMac group finance director, transition director, bid director and service delivery director. One of the best in a generation of CalMac managing directors. Here is a golden opportunity for you to make permanent your position, and ensure CalMac survives beyond the next tender round.
Constructive suggestion: please send the two massive new-builds to serve the Outer Hebrides where they are much more suited. Then go back to the drawing board. Ask your naval architect for a medium-size ‘class’ of ship design at £9m each. Order three for starters. Then rotate two of them on the Ardrossan-Brodick route. Plug in the third when it gets overly busy. That works well. Don’t take my word for it. Cast your eyes up the Clyde to Western Ferries. They have the right size of vessel for their service. They plug in an extra ship to suit the exigencies and demands of their route. If you bring three mid-sized ships such as modern equivalents of 1985 vintage MV Hebridean Isles and 1983 MV Isle of Arran plus another of this class (modern 20182020 design) to Arran, then islanders will have a ferry service that starts at 5am in the morning and ends each day at 11pm. There will be a reliable back-up ship to cover extra demand to plug in at Brodick, just as Western Ferries do at Hunters Quay. We would avoid nightmare breakdowns such as this week.
If CalMac do not get the numerous problems sorted out on the Arran route, then Mr Drummond, how about leasing the old Brodick ferry terminal and linkspan to some of the disgruntled islanders/passengers who have been watching CalMac fail to learn lessons over the past 50 years? There is more than enough qualified, experienced and able people on the island to run our own ferry service. This happened up at Orkney. Andrew Banks’s Pentland Ferries is an exemplar of how a local ferry company should and can work.
Instead, here on Arran, each time we get one of these nautical nightmares, it risks the jobs of people who live and work on the island. Mr Drummond, I would be amazed if you replied to this letter, but very happy if you stick your head above the parapet and speak to many of the distressed passengers regarding this latest, torrid ferry week.
Yours, Russ McLean, Sannox.