Booking system should have considered Island Act

The newly renamed MV Loch Frisa, formerly the MV Utne, in Leith docks before joing CalMac's fleet on the Oban to Craignure run later 2022.

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CalMac’s ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘prejudiced’ booking set-up should have considered the Island’s Act before coming up with its first come, first served system.

Mull & Iona Ferry Committee’s chairman Joe Reade has told Mull Community Council that islanders are being discriminated against when it comes to accessing ferries because people able to plan ahead of time, such as holidaymakers, are getting the spaces.

People who have to get from the islands to hospital appointments, a funeral, shopping or anything that is difficult to plan ahead, are left ‘at the end of the queue’ he told the February meeting on Zoom.

‘It’s quite clear they have no plans to do anything about it in the near future,’ he said, adding: ‘Their view is that a system that runs on a first come first served basis is the fairest – it’s not fair.

‘Our next step is to use the Island Act. The policy of first come first served should have been considered under the Island Act. The new ticketing system certainly should have had a community impact assessment carried out on it.

‘We have to keep shouting about it,’ he said.

Mull and Iona Ferry Committee has lobbied Transport Scotland and CalMac about it repeatedly and has pledged to keep it up, making direct appeals to the Transport Minister and to  MSP Jenni Minto, urging others on the islands to do the same.

Mr Reade also reported to the community council that the ferry’s summer congestion problem was set to become worse. Every sailing by the Loch Frisa, replacing the Coruisk, will have six fewer car spaces. With 10 sailings a day, that will be a loss of 60 spaces.

And Mr Reade also touched on a recent suggestion of debundling CalMac’s ferry services and what it could mean for islands. He said it is not about privatisation, it is about making it more appealing to smaller operators.

‘What makes debundling so interesting to Mull and Iona is that the outcome of it could be a community owned or controlled ferry, rather than services being operated from distant offices in Gourock or Edinburgh, said Mr Reade.

‘If well run, there could be an operating profit to return to the community,’ he added, saying ‘debundling’ was a ‘very complicated and big subject’.

‘It’s a prospect of several years time, not something that’s going to happen soon,’ he said.