Dear Mr Drummond, Thank you for your email of October 17. Several further questions arise from your explanation and information.
In your letter you confirm that across other parts of the fleet the wait-listing facility is available, so why not on the Ardrossan-Brodick route? What is preventing this?
This is a lifeline ferry service, so why is there no extra service potential for full-time Arran residents, such as a wait-list book? We are all aware tourists are booking well in advance. Your numbers confirm what we already observe: ‘Since the introduction of RET, Arran has seen carryings increase by almost 16 per cent, with 205,000 cars shipped during 2017.’
If the objective of the ferry service is purely economic and not a lifeline, tell us. Arran will become less desirable as full-time residents find their freedoms being curtailed and more and more second homes/renting options/ Airbnb replace them.
This is already becoming a huge social and community issue for the island and, although I do not expect CalMac to solve this issue alone, the way the ferry service is run is part of the story that must now be of concern to service providers of all sorts.
As full-time residents, we do not always know weeks in advance when we need to travel to the mainland for such things as hospital appointments, important meetings, essentials shopping or family emergencies. I find your statement: ‘As part of the new Clyde and Hebrides contract, we cannot differentiate by sales channel. In other words, all customers should have equal access - on a first come, first served basis - to our booking inventory’, bodes ill for the future.
The Brodick book was only accessible to those who contacted the port in person or via phone and therefore gave local residents at least a chance. Clearly, as a lifeline ferry for the full-time residents of Arran, CalMac’s publicity makes great play on vital island services.
‘Scotland’s various ferry services are a vital lifeline for island residents’, says VisitScotland, and the First Minister has said she is ‘determined’ to improve ferry services to Scotland’s island communities in the wake of widespread concern over reliability (The Herald, September 13, 2018).
The Ardrossan Harbour Taskforce, reported in TransportNetwork on April 10 2018, as having identified its preferred design option for the harbour upgrade, which aims to improve the facility’s operations and resilience ahead of the introduction of a new, larger ferry. In the report, North Ayrshire Council leader Joe Cullinane welcomed the decision ‘alongside our partners on the working group, we have been working hard to ensure Ardrossan Harbour is of a standard which will allow it to support to lifeline ferry services and the new vessel on the Arran route for many years to come’.
Last week, The Arran Banner records CalMac’s award as Ferry Operator of the Year 2018 at the National Transport Awards, ‘providing a first class customer experience’. I note you added: ‘Our core market is lifeline services we provide to communities across the area, but the popularity of our services with visitors is growing year on year.’
You mention that the wait-list book is a problem and non-viable since the introduction of the GDPR legislation. If we, as customers, are willing to provide information and confirm it can be listed by written hand in a book held at the terminal for staff to read, how can it be against the law? Clearly, for many full-time resident islanders, it is a positive alternative to having no chance of a car booking on a certain date and time. Do full-time island residents no longer deserve a true lifeline ferry service?
Since RET was introduced, tourism has exploded on Arran. Full-time resident islanders begin to feel that their needs are being discounted in the rush to ‘increased economic opportunity’. The island’s ability to attract and retain full-time residents, whether born on the island or incomers, is paramount for wider services to continue, be they medical, schooling, social services of all sorts and commercial. It is vital that CalMac consults with the wider community on what lifeline is now coming to mean. Too many options purely for growth in numbers on the ferry and visiting Arran is not an option if it discounts the importance of lifeline ferry for the full-time resident islanders.
I would like to invite you
to Arran to come along and discuss with all interested parties in the community what this term ‘lifeline ferry’ actually means today and how our service could better respond to that term in the future.
I fully appreciate that the major issue that I am raising here demands attention more in the political arena of transport operating policy in Scotland than in simply delivering an efficient ferry operating service.
Yours, Dr Sally Campbell, Lamlash.
Robbie Drummond, CalMac managing director.