CalMac tells Islay that:'If there is a pressing need to run ships round the clock to alleviate congestion during exceptionally busy periods then we can do so.'
Calmac ferries at Port Ellen
CalMac Managing Director Phil Preston, David Cannon Public Affairs Manager and Regional Manager Fay Harris visited Islay on Friday of last week together with Peter Bald from the Scottish Governmentâ€™s Ferries Division and David Adams McGilp of VisitScotland. They met with representatives from Islay distilleries, tourism operators, community councillors and members of the farming community to discuss ways forward following the withdrawal of one of the vessels serving Islay on four separate occasions so far this year. The ongoing requirement to withdraw the vessel in the event of breakdowns elsewhere in the CalMac fleet had caused significant disruption to the Islay ferry service. Following the morning meetings, which were held at the Machrie, the group met with the Ileach editor at the Harbour Inn who subsequently sent CalMac a seventeen point memo summarising the morningâ€™s discussions. The seventeen points were agreed on and returned by CalMac with some minor modifications. The agreed version can be found below. Continue reading......
In addition to assurances over clearing backlogs, the company offered consultation with the community over the provision of additional sailings at peak times, such as shows, festivals and cattle sales. There was also an undertaking to re-visit the question of incentivising hauliers to move freight to the less popular sailings and to re-examine the possibility of offering a â€˜drop trailerâ€™ service which is used on some other routes. These proposals should provide additional assurance to visitors that, even in exceptional circumstances, they will be able to travel. If an agreement can be reached with the hauliers then this too offers the prospect of more space at peak times, which can only be of general benefit. The Scottish Government is currently undertaking a wide-ranging Ferries Review and CalMac expects the long-awaited EU Transport Commissionerâ€™s report into the company to be published in about a month.
Detailed below are the seventeen points agreed with CalMac following the meetings held with the Islay community at The Machrie on 2nd October 2009.
1) CalMac is fully committed to maintaining a two vessel service to Islay up to and beyond the new Islay vessel entering service in 2011.
2) The current requirement to withdraw one of the two ships serving Islay to cover breakdowns elsewhere in the fleet will continue until the new Islay vessel enters service in 2011. (Regrettably there are no suitable vessels available to charter or buy meantime).
3) Once the new vessel enters service in 2011, Islay will no longer provide the spare vessel for the rest of the network, so the difficulties experienced this year by breakdowns elsewhere should not arise. However CalMac cannot guarantee 100% that in extreme circumstances, Islay vessels will not be redeployed for limited periods should operations require it, but this will only be considered on a case by case basis.
4) The current Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS) contract ends in 2013. What happens after that date is a political decision and out of CalMac hands but the company is committed to lobbying for the continuation of a two vessel service to Islay beyond 2013.
5) CalMac reassures us that, in the event of a ferry having to be withdrawn prior to 2011, 'no-one will be left on the pier'. If this means running an additional sailing using the remaining vessel to clear a backlog, then the company has the means to do that and it will be done, although customers must accept this may require them travelling at unsociable hours and there may be a knock-on effect to future scheduled sailings.
6) It was suggested that the company has, historically, on occasion, 'hidden behind the Working Hours Directive'. The company assured us that while it could not ignore the Working Hours Directive the flexibility exists, both in ship management and crew management terms, to be more adaptable if required in the future. 'If there is a pressing need to run ships around the clock to alleviate congestion during exceptionally busy periods then we can do so'.
7) This flexibility extends to the ability to consider introducing additional sailings, on top of those timetabled, at peak times of the year, by prior arrangement and agreement with the local community. The community has identified up to 20 times during the year when, festivals, shows or special events such as cattle sales could be predicted to place significant strain on the ferry services. It would be up to the local community to plan these events and provide CalMac with timely information which would enable them to assist by providing additional sailings where appropriate.
8) CalMac accept that the capacity of the Islay ferry services means that the route is currently 'potentially constrained', and the company is happy to work with the community to try and alleviate this problem.
9) Passenger and car traffic levels to Islay during the 2009 season (to date) have been up by around 10%.
10) A number of factors including the introduction of RET, good weather and the value of the euro against the pound, resulted in significantly increased traffic levels to the Outer Hebrides during the spring/summer season. This has meant that ferries are running at very high capacities. Further factors influencing these traffic levels may be identified by Halcrow who are the consultants evaluating RET. Halcrow will be able to subject their statistics to a more rigorous analysis than is currently possible from what is essentially anecdotal information. It remains to be seen what traffic levels will be on RET routes during the winter.
11) CalMac are not aware of any 'transfer' of traffic from non RET routes to RET routes, but they have anecdotal evidence of increased traffic on RET routes by those who would have previously only travelled if absolutely necessary. This suggests that businesses are travelling more rather than passing savings from RET on to customers.
12) The company is of course well aware of the potential for these increased traffic levels to become general across the network should RET be rolled out nationwide, although not all routes would benefit from RET.
13) On Islay, there is a continuing problem of hauliers not wishing to use less popular 'off-peak sailings', which inevitably limits car space at the more popular times.
14) It was suggested that hauliers were more likely to change this practice if they were incentivised to do so.
15) An effective incentive to hauliers to use a night freight service on the Ullapool/Stornoway route using the 'Muirneag' had been for CalMac to offer 10% discount plus a drop trailer facility on this sailing. CalMac said that there are significant issues to be addressed surrounding this approach including the terms of their contract and state aid rules before they could apply it to off-peak sailings to Islay but that they would consider this again.
16) It was stressed that the company believes that an unusual set of circumstances conspired to create five separate occasions this year which resulted in major ferries having to be taken out of service - four of which had resulted in service cancellations on the Islay route. It is hoped that this will not be repeated in future years.
17) The importance of communications and presentation was stressed. CalMac said there were a number of ways in which it publicised disruptions but would work with local communities to see if there was ways in which that info could be better used.
Caledonian MacBrayne also added the following comments: - 'One of the things which is mentioned from time to time is the problems people report getting booked onto the ferry they require. It would be helpful to flag up the things that customers could do to help us manage our reservation system more efficiently which would in turn help other ferry users. 'We would always encourage customers to book in advance but we have encountered problems when customers make repeat bookings to give them more options for when they wish to travel, but do not cancel the ones that they do not require. This means that customers trying to make late bookings for whatever reason are prevented from doing so because the ferry is 'full,' when in fact it will not be come time of sailing. 'We would also like to see commercial vehicle block booked space that is unlikely to be taken up by the block booking customer, being cancelled much sooner that is done at present - and not left until hours before a sailing, as often happens. This practice leads to unsatisfied demand and space becoming available on the sailing much too late for it to be of any use or value to potential customers, or for ourselves the operator to be able to offer to anyone else.'
This story was published with kind permission of the Ileach local newspaper.