Harris ferries: Costs override community

Serious concern has emerged that the proposed changes on the Harris-Lochmaddy triangular route are now a fait accompli, after it emerged that the Scottish Government insisted on no more funding for ferries, while CalMac estimate the cost of maintaining service on the route at pre-pandemic level would cost an additional £800,000.

By Murray MacLeod
Thursday, 18th November 2021, 10:15 am
A report shows that cost has been the driving factor in the proposals to reduce the timetable on the Harris-Lochmaddy-Skye route

The Harris Forum, which represents a number of community groups on the island have now requested an urgent meeting with transport minister Graeme Dey in order to press home the economic impact to the community of a reduction in service, particularly during the busy summer months.

CalMac have proposed cutting one sailing on a Saturday – a crucial time for tourists getting on and off the island as it is ‘changeover’ day for accommodation providers – as well as the withdrawal of the upper mezzanine deck, which would reduce vehicle carrying capacity by 20 per cent.

The Harris Forum have produced a separate economic assessment which suggests the service could be maintained at over £400,000 – but, in any case, the community would stand to lose out on an estimated £3 million of income due to a failure to commit to returning the service to what was available in 2019.

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Forum chair Kenny MacLeod said: “It is clear that they are not willing to listen to our views but keep trying to get us to accept a reduced service – either by doing away with the Mezzanine deck or by losing the second sailing from Tarbert on a Saturday, neither of which is acceptable.

"We have been saying for years that the only practical solution for this service and the huge pressure it is experiencing through growth of demand, is to put two similar sized vessels on the route for the summer period.”

The route was due for a significant expansion with the arrival of a new vessel back in 2018 but is still languishing incomplete in the nationalised Ferguson’s yard and the latest estimate is it won’t be ready till 2023.

A CalMac spokeswoman said: “The summer 2022 timetable has not been finalised. Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is currently consulting on proposals with local community representatives.”