When it comes to trans­port, it seems lit­tle changes

The Oban Times - - News -

BACK in the mists of time, links be­tween the West Coast of Scot­land, its is­lands and Ire­land were among the main trans­port routes for com­merce in Europe.

Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­mains seem to point to trade through­out Europe and into Africa. That, more than any other rea­son, was why St Columba – or plain old Columba as he was known in AD563 – ended up on the is­land of Iona.

Adono­man, of course, the first great jour­nal­ist of the West Coast peo­ple, then told his story and in it em­bel­lished the war, the killings, and the deaths.

Our trans­port links were self-pro­pelled and most peo­ple would have had a boat in which to nav­i­gate from A to B and back again – a cur­ruch or cor­a­cle.

Things changed when the world moved on and fund­ing was made avail­able for trans­port links – with one per­son pay­ing the fer­ry­man. To­day in our part of the world that is CalMac.

An­gus MacPhail wrote about the power of the ferry com­pany in his col­umn for The Oban Times last week – and I had a no­tion to look into the archives to find the rea­sons be­hind route choices.

A lit­tle, of­ten voiced, phrase struck me: ‘The Earth be­longs unto the Lord,

‘And all that it con­tains, ex­cept the Kyles and the Western Isles as they are all MacBrayne’s.’

There is no doubt that the per­son who chooses the ferry links or in­deed to build a bridge (or change a bridge from rail to road, as in the case of the Con­nel Bridge) can fun­da­men­tally change a com­mu­nity, not least be­cause, with the link­ing of a bridge, an is­land or penin­sula be­come part of a land­mass and al­ters its ac­ces­si­bil­ity overnight. What is clear from The Oban

Times ar­chive is a lack of con­sul­ta­tion in the past about what com­mu­ni­ties might want. This is prob­a­bly due to the en­tre­pre­neur­ial na­ture of boat own­ers through the cen­turies, then the buy­ing power of David MacBrayne.

The plan­ning of boats and par­tic­u­lar routes since the gov­ern­ment took over their run­ning, it could be ar­gued, are based on what is best for the purse-strings for the cen­tral belt ex­ec­u­tives rather than the peo­ple who run the ser­vices on the West Coast.

I mean, who would cut off a ferry to the isle of Iona at 6pm, mak­ing it al­most im­pos­si­ble to have a day in the city and come home – in­clud­ing for a hos­pi­tal ap­point­ment or to have a meal out on the Ross of Mull? Or a ferry route that only once a year al­lows peo­ple liv­ing on is­lands right next door to each other to visit each other di­rectly?

It will come to pass that the con­trol of in­di­vid­ual ser­vices will re­turn to the com­mu­ni­ties they serve. This should be the way of it.

If com­mu­ni­ties had real con­trol over fer­ries, we would not be stuck with the travel-lim­it­ing pol­icy of re­duc­ing ferry fares for ev­ery­one, and not just those peo­ple who live and work on is­lands. I am talk­ing of course of the Road Equiv­a­lent Tar­iff (RET).

RET could be con­sid­ered a bit of a dis­as­ter if its in­ten­tion was to make the main­land more ac­ces­si­ble to peo­ple liv­ing on the is­lands.

Is­lan­ders of­ten re­port how dif­fi­cult it is to book a car onto a ferry in the sum­mer months de­spite more sail­ings.

Of­ten I hear that all the RET has man­aged to achieve is an in­crease in tourists us­ing the boats, with the num­ber of peo­ple ac­cess­ing pub­lic trans­port be­gin­ning to stag­nate, and on some is­lands de­crease, be­cause if you have four in your car it is eas­ier and cheaper to drive.

A com­mon theme in the Oban Times ar­chive is that of the area’s roads.

A let­ter to the editor in Septem­ber 1937 shows the state of some of the roads to be in a sim­i­lar con­di­tion to the way some de­scribe them now.

It seems a bit bleak, that noth­ing will ever change, but we all know that this place is ex­tra spe­cial de­spite – and of­ten be­cause of – its dif­fi­cul­ties. And we all like a good moan about CalMac.

It seems bleak but we all know this place is ex­tra spe­cial”

The con­ver­sion of a bridge from rail to road fun­da­men­tally al­ters the com­mu­nity it serves, above; while a let­ter to the editor in 1937 in­di­cates sim­i­lar prob­lems to those moaned about to­day; and the fre­quency of ser­vices fer­ries re­mains puz­zling.

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