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Highland Council officials have been instructed to progress work as soon as possible that will see the installation of ticketing machines which will allow the charging of foot passengers and cyclists using the Corran Ferry.
Currently such ferry users are allowed to travel for free but last week’s meeting of Highland Council Lochaber Area Committee, at Strontian, heard that local communities were in favour of such a move to help keep the vital lifeline ferry service viable.
HITRANS (Highland and Islands Transport Partnership) is currently working to deliver a Scottish Government Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG) looking at the future options for crossing the Corran Narrows.
This includes the possibility of constructing either a bridge or a tunnel as an eventual alternative to the current ferry service.
At last week’s meeting, councillors heard that the current ‘antiquated’ system for collecting fares is incompatible with smart technology and the present system and support for push-button machines have become outdated and represent a risk to service reliability which must be addressed.
There is no capacity to take payments by smart-card, web-based sales or mobile phone pre-payment apps and the current temporary solution for taking card payments is proving to be time consuming and unreliable.
To address these issues council staff are actively looking at new ticketing providers and systems to make it easier to gather meaningful statistics and keep accurate records.
The report presented to the committee also highlighted that the introduction of charging for foot passengers is being progressed.
They and cyclists will be charged a fare and the committee instructed officials that this must be implemented in the current financial year.
The Corran Ferry is the busiest single service in Scotland carrying 270,000 vehicles every year.
The council’s roads operations manager, Richard Porteous, who has responsibility for the ferry, also gave an update on the overall ferry situation.
Committee chairman, Councillor Andrew Baxter (Fort William and Ardnamurchan) said it was interesting to note that Transport Scotland referred to the ferry as a ‘lifeline service’, but nowhere in the reports was it mentioned if Highland Council thought likewise.
‘Does the council regard it as lifeline service also?’ asked Mr Baxter.
‘Yes,’ answered Mr Porteous.
Mr Porteous went on to say he guessed the timescale for HITRANS to undertake its study would be sometime within the next 18 months, given the Government’s Strategic Transport Report 2 was due to be completed within the next three years.
In the meantime, councillors have supported the recruitment of two additional crew members following a staffing review that highlighted the need for more resilience in order to continue providing a sustainable ferry service.
The council is also currently advertising for a project manager for a two-year fixed-term appointment.
The remit of the post includes progressing all aspects for the Corran Ferry Service Outline Business Case, determining future proposals for capital investment in vessels, slipway structures, service delivery methods and future fares in close consultation with council members and stakeholders.
The project manager will also be involved with the current ferry operations.