Friday, September 24

‘It’s Unbelievably Poor’: Scottish Islanders Angry Over Failure of Ferry Service | Scotland

TThe perfume and toiletries shop overlooking Brodick Bay in Arran is usually packed in summer, as day-trippers and tourists leave the mainland ferries at the busy terminal across the bay.

But this summer has been bleak, said Andrew Russell, director of sales for Arran Sense of Scotland, formerly known as Arran Aromatics. For thousands of people and businesses across Scotland’s west coast, this summer has been hit by repeated crises affecting ferry services run by state-funded CalMac.

Its aging fleet of red, black and white ferries has been hit by breakdowns, service cancellations and diversions, exacerbated by severe restrictions on the number of passengers due to Scotland’s strict Covid rules, which reduce capacity by approximately 65%. .

Farmers on the islands have not been able to bring livestock to market; B&B owners have lost dozens of reservations; the islanders have not been able to attend weddings or hospital appointments; seafood suppliers have been unable to bring their precious live product to France; while Lewis’s brilliant team in the Western Isles was forced to cancel all their recent matches.

Passengers bound for Arran board the ferry
Passengers bound for Arran board a ferry. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod / The Guardian

Ferry activists and councilors blame CalMac and the Scottish government, which ultimately owns the ferry service, for decades of underfunding and complacency over the impact these failures have on the islands’ economies and their day-to-day lives. . The word “fiasco” is commonly used.

Russell estimates that his company’s store north of Brodick has lost half of its normal business a few days this summer. In June and July, when one of Arran’s two ferries was dispatched to cover one of CalMac’s busiest routes between Ullapool on the mainland and Stornoway on Lewis, after the ferry broke down, Russell estimates the store lost around from £ 15,000 a week.

“It’s not fatal to us, but it’s huge,” he said. “I cannot stress enough how important that store is. Summer commerce supports the island’s business during the winter months. “

At the same time, service cancellations and a shortage of space on the remaining ferry made it much more difficult for perfume, soap and handwashing supplies to reach Arran and for those products to reach Arran’s stores and customers. the mainland.

Alastair Dobson, the vice chairman of Arran’s ferry committee created to campaign for better services, said analysis by the Fraser of Allander Institute, a group of economics experts at the University of Strathclyde, suggested that ferry restrictions had cost the island more than £ 60 million in lost revenue. “There is not much resilience left,” he said.

Alastair dobson
Alastair Dobson. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod / The Guardian

Dobson and Russell are praying that Nicola Sturgeon, the prime minister, will confirm on August 9 the end of the country’s remaining physical distance rules, which require a distance of 1 meter between people on public transportation.

CalMac argues that those restrictions are the main cause of the problems affecting services. Robbie Drummond, its managing director, said: “Once the Scottish government has removed the physical distancing rules, we will make it a priority to increase to full capacity as quickly as possible.”

Social distancing measures on the CalMac ferry
Social distancing measures on the CalMac ferry. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod / The Guardian

Norrie Macdonald, vice president of sustainability for the Western Isles board, said that was only part of the solution. “Confidence in the service is plummeting and disenchantment is at an all-time high,” he said.

He highlighted its policy of using single large ferries to service the main routes rather than several smaller vessels: if that single ferry breaks down, a vessel must be redeployed from another route.

That happened with one of Arran’s ferries in June and July. When engine problems caused MV Loch Seaforth, the Ullapool-Stornoway ferry, to make landfall, CalMac sent MV Isle of Arran north to replace it. CalMac tried to hire a catamaran ferry to help, but failed, forcing a cargo ferry to be hired for overnight trips to Stornoway.

On July 21, the Western Isles came under fire again when MV Lord of the Isles, which links Mallaig to Lochboisdale at the South Uist, broke down, affecting serves for Skye, Oban and Harris. Another ferry from Arran to the Argyll mainland also broke down that day. Numerous trips were canceled.

Joe Reade, who runs Island Bakery in Mull, which caters to mainland retailers like Waitrose, said ministers in Edinburgh had not invested in new ferries when Alex Salmond, the then prime minister, made the widely praised decision to subsidize the tariffs of the ferry to bring them. in line with the average mileage costs of traveling on the continent.

Known as the “equivalent road fee,” it slashed prices for tourists and sparked a boom in the number of visitors to the islands. But it also greatly increased competition for space in CalMac’s ailing fleet, while costing taxpayers £ 200 million a year.

Plans to add new ferries to CalMac’s fleet have since failed: A tender to build two hybrid ferries at Ferguson Marine Shipbuilders on the Clyde has been embroiled in bitter contract disputes. The ships are five years overdue and double their original cost of £ 97 million, with no clear date of commissioning.

“It is particularly bad this summer due to the large volume of motorhomes and motorhomes [competing with delivery lorries for ferry space]”Reade said. “I would say that it is dysfunctional. The way the service is delivered is incredibly poor value for money. “

Tourism and retail businesses in Arran say they have been badly affected by ferry cancellations
Ferry passengers. Arran’s tourism and retail businesses say they have been badly hit by service cancellations. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod / The Guardian

Donald Lamont, the captain of the Camanachd Leòdhais club, the brilliant team from Western Isles, said that Covid restrictions and intense competition for space on the ferry had made it impossible for the 16-member team to guarantee arrival at matches in the continent.

They hope to reorganize four or five friendlies if restrictions are lifted in August; they usually play 18 every summer. Still, his season was ruined. “The fiasco with acquisitions and the aging of the fleet will get worse rather than better in the coming years,” Lamont said. “It is awful”.

A spokesman for Transport Scotland, the government agency that oversees CalMac, said he was sympathetic and that ministers had earmarked £ 580 million in investment in ferries over the next five years.

“We acknowledge the frustration of communities over the recent disruption and the impact it is having. We are doing everything we can to help Calmac maximize available capacity across the network, ”he said. “We recognize that the fleet is aging and that is why we are delivering new tonnage to support our communities.”

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