Transport forum’s warning over Mallaig ferry changes
FERRY operator CalMac has said ferry services will not be downgraded as it announces a third vessel to serve the Armadale to Mallaig route.
However, a community group on Skye has warned plans to run three boats with a varying timetable would cause ‘serious disruption’ to passengers.
Sleat Transport Forum, a group set up last year by Sleat Community Council on Skye to address transport issues, has said the new proposals will cause ‘confusion and disruption’.
The decision to add the third ferry comes after pressure on both CalMac and Transport Scotland by both the forum and local politicians, amid fears businesses, tourism and local life on Skye could be badly affected by the changes.
The Coruisk ferry currently serves the route, with capacity for 40 vehicles, but it has now been earmarked for Oban to Craignure journeys, which are expected to see a rise in passengers this summer with the introduction of the Road Equivalent Tariff (RET).
CalMac has proposed to replace Coruisk with the Lochinvar boat, which can take only 22 cars and has ‘inadequate’ passenger facilities onboard, according to Sleat Transport Forum. The Lochinvar will be supplemented by runs by the larger Lord of the Isles in between serving Lochboisdale (South Uist) from Mallaig, and CalMac announced it will introduce a third vessel, the MV Bhrusda, to aid at peak times. This means there will be three separate timetables over the summer period.
Roddy Murray, the Sleet Transport Forum’s chairman, said: ‘Businesses in Sleat dependent on tourism require a definitive schedule for the summer season but the lack of a suitable finalised timetable with sufficient capacity leaves them in limbo. CalMac’s latest proposal to run three ferries with shoulder and peak period timetables will cause uncertainty, confusion and serious disruption at Mallaig and at Armadale. It is not considered a viable option.’
The issues were due to be discussed on Tuesday night at the Sleat Community Council meeting.
Dave Thompson, MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, has had extensive communications with CalMac and transport minister Derek Mackay, regarding their proposed new ferry provisions. He said he was disappointed the MV Coruisk will be re- deployed to the Oban to Mull service. However he added that he ‘reluctantly accepted’ the extra vessel at peak times, and he would be monitoring the situation.
He said: ‘As someone who has been campaigning to keep the MV Coruisk for the Mallaig to Armadale Crossing, I reacted with disappointment at the news that the MV Coruisk will be redeployed to Oban to Mull.
‘From my recent meeting with the Transport Minister, Derek Mackay, I am informed that the expected increase on the Craignure to Oban service is significantly higher than that expected of Mallaig to Armadale service.
‘However, it is welcome news that the MV Bhrusda will take the vessels operating on the crossing from two to three and that there will be greater frequencies of sailings and a significant increase in capacity to meet the expected extra demand on the route from RET, including an earlier service in the morning for Mallaig to Armadale.
‘A review of tourist bus schedules will be required, which will involve detailed discussions with tourist bus operators to ensure tourists and locals are properly accommodated by the new extra sailings.
‘Given the expansion in demand that will occur with the introduction of RET on the Mallaig to Armadale Crossing, it is critical that the capacity and frequency matches that, despite the loss of the MV Coruisk. So, whilst I am heartened at news of extra sailings and significantly enhanced capacity, including an extra early morning service, I will be keeping a close eye on how the situation develops to make sure we get the best deal for Mallaig to Armadale, and I welcome the fact that CalMac has committed to keeping the situation under constant review.’
A CalMac spokesman said: ‘This is a service enhancement on the Mallaig-Armadale route for this summer. Three vessels will provide more services, more frequently and overall have a higher vehicle carrying capacity than the MV Coruisk provided. We are confident this will meet any extra demand the introduction of RET may stimulate.’
DISAPPOINTED: Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Dave Thompson.