Sleat group blasts CalMac in let­ter to Trans­port Scot­land

The Oban Times - - NEWS - SARA BAIN fort@oban­times.co.uk

OP­ER­A­TORS of a trou­bled ferry route have been ac­cused of de­liv­er­ing a ‘fairy story of po­lit­i­cal spin and bla­tant in­ac­cu­racy’.

In the wake of CalMac Fer­ries Ltd’s an­nounce­ment of its new sum­mer timetable ear­lier this month, Sleat Trans­port Fo­rum says it was ‘as­tounded’ at what was likely to be ‘an­other sum­mer of un­ac­cept­able ser­vice on the Mal­laig-Ar­madale route’.

But Trans­port Scot­land says it and ferry op­er­a­tors CalMac are do­ing their best to pro­vide ad­di­tional ca­pac­ity, fre­quency and im­proved re­li­a­bil­ity on the route.

The ser­vice came un­der fire last year when the MV Coruisk, which had op­er­ated suc­cess­fully be­tween Mal­laig and Ar­madale for 12 years, was re- de­ployed to serve the Oban to Craignure route.

CalMac re­placed the one-ves­sel Mal­laig to Ar­madale ser­vice with three ves­sels. Two of the ves­sels de­ployed, how­ever, were not de­signed for the route and by the end of the sea­son al­most 400 ser­vices had been can­celled.

CalMac says its 2017 sum­mer timetable will in­crease ca­pac­ity on the ser­vice by op­er­at­ing two fer­ries - The MV Lord of the Isles and MV Loch Fyne – which will re­place last year’s three-ves­sel ser­vice. But Sleat Trans­port Fo­rum has blasted the move say­ing Drew Col­lier, CalMac op­er­a­tions di­rec­tor, failed to men­tion ‘the tens of thou­sands of trav­ellers whose jour­neys were af­fected last year which has re­sulted in a dra­matic loss of con­fi­dence in the route’.

In a let­ter to Gra­ham Laid­law, Trans­port Scot­land’s head of fer- ries, Rob Ware, fo­rum sec­re­tary, said: ‘Mr Col­lier fails to men­tion the 350 less coaches on the route in 2016 than 2015, a stag­ger­ing drop of 15 per cent, and with a nine per cent in­crease with the MV Coruisk in 2015 than 2014, this rep­re­sents a swing of 24 per cent in coach traf­fic over two sum­mers.’

Mr Ware said that what should have been a ‘cel­e­bra­tion of growth with the in­tro­duc­tion of RET proved to be a pub­lic re­la­tions fi­asco’. He added that at­tempts by the fo­rum to ask for the costs of op­er­at­ing the route in 2015 as against 2016 have been re­fused un­der Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion ex­emp­tion.

In re­ply to the fo­rum’s con­cerns, Mr Laid­law added: ‘Spring tides re­main an is­sue in the timetable and, for the first two weeks of the sum­mer, ser­vice will be no­tice­ably vari­able. While that is un­avoid­able, cus­tomers are be­ing pro­vided with ad­vance no­tice and can plan around that.’

But Mr Ware claims anal­y­sis by the fo­rum sug­gests that, with a tidal timetable on the route, there are days where there are sig­nif­i­cantly less than nine sail­ings and on some days only five are sched­uled.

He pre­dicts that, un­der the new timetable, al­most 40 per cent of this year’s sum­mer ser­vice across the Sound of Sleat will be af­fected by changes to the sched­ule due to low tidal con­di­tions. Mr Ware said: ‘On an op­ti­mum week, there are planned to be 120 sail­ings in to­tal for the Mal­laig to Ar­madale route, with the com­bi­na­tion of Lord of the Isles and Loch Fyne. How­ever, with the re­quire­ment to make tidal changes on 79 out of the 206 sail­ing days, some weeks have as few as 92-95 sail­ings, a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion and some of these oc­cur in the peak hol­i­day sea­son.

‘The fo­rum and our col­leagues across the Sound of Sleat made it abun­dantly clear that, from a cus­tomer’s per­spec­tive, a tidal timetable would be to­tally un­ac­cept­able in 2017.

‘With the de­ploy­ment of the MV Loch Fyne, the timetable has had to be re­vised to al­low for the tides which re­sults in some days hav­ing no ser­vices be­tween Mal­laig and Ar­madale for more than five hours. In the re­verse di­rec­tion, there are days when there is a six-hour gap be­tween sail­ings. The fo­rum pre­dicts fur­ther dis­rup­tion will oc­cur where tides are lower than ex­pected.’

CalMac and Trans­port Scot­land say they will con­tinue to mon­i­tor the ser­vice over the sum­mer and urged in­ter­ested par­ties to sup­port the ser­vice.

Mr Laid­law said: ‘CalMac has of­fered as­sis­tance to the Sleat com­mu­nity with mar­ket­ing and other pro­mo­tional ac­tiv­ity to en­cour­age more peo­ple to come to the area and re­as­sure them that the Mal­laig to Ar­madale ferry route is open for busi­ness.

‘I urge the Sleat com­mu­nity to take up that of­fer from CalMac and work with them.’

Pho­to­graph: Sara Bain.

Sec­re­tary of Sleat Trans­port Fo­rum Rob Ware at Ar­madale Ferry ter­mi­nal.

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