A ferry shuffle looks like it is on the cards across the Clyde and Hebrides network signalled by the Government’s Vessel Replacement and Deployment Plan (VRDP) published this week and the announcement of new services.
Warmly welcomed are the proposals to dedicate a ferry to both the Barra to Oban and Lochboisdale to Mallaig routes, but less welcome is the possibility that the summer service from Stornoway to Ullapool may be impacted.
The travelling public from Stornoway has enjoyed the benefit of a brand new ferry the MV Loch Seaforth, which started serving the route in February, along with the supportive efforts of the MV Isle of Lewis. The Isle of Lewis also provided an enhanced summer service.
But with the announcement of service improvements across the Calmac network it looks like the MV Isle of Lewis may soon be sailing the Oban to Barra route, although no date has yet been set for the re-deployment.
Talking about the situation a spokesperson for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar told the Gazette: “The Comhairle, along with other key stakeholders in ferry services to and within the Outer Hebrides, remain concerned about a likely shortfall in capacity on the Stornoway Ullapool route during the peak summer period next year.
“In addition, it is clear that the staging of the Royal National Mod in Stornoway in 2016 will place additional demands on ferry services at that time.
“We very much value the additional resilience and capacity provided by the availability and utilisation of the MV Isle of Lewis during the peak period in summer 2015 and will continue to collaborate with Transport Scotland in their analysis of the results of that enhancement.
“However, whilst we welcome the retention of the MV Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in 2016 providing additional capacity on ferry services between Oban and Castlebay and allowing a dedicated service between Mallaig and Lochboisdale, the need for additional capacity on the Stornoway to Ullapool route is likely to remain and we have already sought clarification from Transport Scotland and CalMac how they intend providing this next year.”
However at the moment Transport Scotland seem to be flagging up the view that no additional capacity is required, saying: “We have been clear from the outset that our intention is for the MV Loch Seaforth to be used as the sole vessel on the Stornoway-Ullapool route.
“The MV Loch Seaforth is capable of operating 24 hours a day and brings an increase of more than 16% car-carrying capacity when compared to the MV Isle of Lewis.
“She has a capacity for up to 700 passengers, and 143 cars or 20 commercial vehicles.”
So far no information has been made available from either Transport Scotland or Calmac in regards to how popular the enhanced summer service from Stornoway was, but perhaps this information will be fed into the consultation with communities being held by Calmac.
That consultation is well underway and the public are being encouraged to submit their views via representatives atWestern Isles Council as soon as possible.
In the meantime further welcome news for ferry users was announced by Minister for Transport and Islands Derek Mackay this week, as he stated that there will be a total freeze on ferry fares for 2016/17 across the Scottish Government subsidised services – including passengers, cars and commercial vehicles.