CalMac plans ‘punitive’ new cancellation fees to deter ‘no shows’

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CalMac are proposing a sliding scale of up to 100 per cent of vehicle fares to be forfeited, if passengers fail to travel on their intended sailing. A £10 fee would also be charged if they need to change their booking.

The Hebridean ferry operator has just launched a consultation on changes to its terms and conditions, aiming to reduce ‘no shows’ and the number of unused car spaces on each sailing.

In a letter informing MSPs, CalMac commercial director Diane Burke said: ‘At the moment there is no incentive for customers to give us early notice of changes or cancellations to their booking. Some customers therefore cancel their bookings at very short notice. This results in unused deck space, thus denying other customers the opportunity to travel.

‘Over the last eight months, we have been developing our proposal to ensure it is proportionate and comparable to the policies of other UK ferry operators.’

On the sliding scale of cancellation levies, cancelling 29 days or more before travel will incur a 25 per cent deduction of the total vehicle fare. Cancelling between eight and 28 days beforehand will bring a 50 per cent deduction, and between 24 hours and seven days before, a 75 per cent deduction. If you cancel less than 24 hours, or fail to show for travel, there will be a 100 per cent deduction of 100 per cent of the total vehicle fare.

A £10 fee will be incurred if customers change the date or time 48 hours or more before travel, and no amendments can be made within 48 hours of travel.

‘However, they have the option of cancelling,’ Ms Burke said. ‘To change route or vehicle type, they must cancel the reservation and make a new one.

‘We recognise that, from time to time, a customer may be required to cancel or amend travel because of circumstances beyond their control. We propose to retain the following exceptions to our policy: death of an immediate family member, debilitating illness preventing travel, involved in a road traffic accident, [and] multivessel journey where one leg of the journey has been cancelled by us. We propose adding the following exception: NHS National Services Scotland cancelling an appointment.

A spokeswoman for CalMac added: ‘We very much welcome views on these proposals. The consultation involves all eight ferry committees and transport forums across the network. Each consultation period will last 30 days, after which we will collate all feedback, review, and assess any impact. Our findings and responses will then be published in June 2022.’

One of the consultees, Mull and Iona Ferry Committee, said: ‘We acknowledge that ‘no-shows’ are a problem for the service, and we often witness ferries departing with much less than a full car deck, even though online ticket sales had closed because the sailing was ‘full’.

‘We are not convinced, however, that punitive charges are the best or fairest way to address this problem, nor that ‘no-shows’ can by themselves account for the under-utilisation witnessed.

‘There are often many legitimate reasons for failing to arrive at a sailing on time – for example, as a result of traffic delays en-route to the port, or changes to travel plans due to weather (for example moving livestock to and from the mainland).

‘This initial proposal from CalMac seems to be that if we are held up by a traffic jam in Glasgow and miss our intended sailing, we will forfeit our entire ticket fare. That cannot be right or just.

‘CalMac says this policy is aimed at “discouraging those who make multiple reservations, then cancel the ones they no longer require at late notice”. With the introduction of CalMac’s new IT system, identification of repeat offenders would be a relatively simple task – surely a more targeted and fair approach would be to identify those few repeat abusers of the process, rather than penalising all islanders. It will also be far less bureaucratic and complex.

‘They appear to be using a punitive and indiscriminate hammer to break this particular nut.’