Ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne has announced it is making 13 improvements to its timetables following consultations with local communities. The changes come into effect at the start of the Winter 2008/09 timetable on Sunday 19th October 2008, and will be published online from Monday 8th September 2008. The timetable amendments, which follow on from other changes made when the contract started in October last year, are largely aimed at ensuring better integration with bus and rail services and improving connectivity for businesses. All will apply in the Winter timetable, with the majority of them also set to be applied in Summer 2009.
In addition, CalMac has agreed to carry bicycles free of charge for the first time, with cyclists paying only the relevant passenger fare. Lawrie Sinclair, Managing Director of CalMac, said: 'Consulting with local communities to understand as fully as possible their transport needs was an important part of the contract and we have therefore invested a great deal of time since starting the contract doing just that. We are delighted to be able to makes these improvements, which on paper would appear minor, but we know will have a huge impact on the quality of the lives of the communities we serve. 'We are also pleased to be able to demonstrate that the scope to make timetable changes does exist in the CHFS contract. This should allay the concerns of some that there was no flexibility in our future operations. Of course, for operational and financial reasons, we have been unable to make all the changes the communities or we would like this time round. Continue reading....We share the disappointment of those who havenâ€™t got the changes they desired. However we are committed to continuous improvement of all our services, and will continue to investigate ways in which we can do so.' The timetable improvements have been welcomed by Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson, who said: 'Iâ€™m sure more people in future will take advantage of free cycle transportation to enjoy the West coast.' The decision to drop charges for bicycles has been welcomed by cycling groups. Erl Wilkie, Chief Executive of Cycling Scotland, said: 'The removal of charges for cycles on CalMac ferries is something to be welcomed, as it will make access to Scotlandâ€™s many beautiful islands a more attractive option for both tourists and islanders travelling by bike. Cycle tourism is a growing industry in Scotland and already contributes well to our overall tourism economy. Any step taken to give this industry a boost is a step forward.' John Lauder, National Director, Sustrans Scotland added: 'This is great news for all who love cycling in the Highlands and Islands.'