Uproar over ferry timetable change

CalMac’s proposed timetable for the Uig-Tarbert route next summer has been branded “nothing short of disastrous for the tourism industry on Harris” in a letter to the Scottish Transport Minister from the chief executive of Outer Isles Tourism, Rob Mackinnon.

Wednesday, 3rd November 2021, 6:35 pm
Updated Thursday, 4th November 2021, 10:33 am
The community in Harris are up in arms at the proposed changes

In the same vein, the proposals have been condemned by the Harris Forum, an umbrella group for island organisations, as “unbelievable” amidst calls for withdrawal of the proposed timetable in order to avoid an immediate impact on bookings for next season.

The chairman of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s transp ortation committee, Uisdean Robertson, described it as an “extraordinary piece of decision-making” and said he had received many complaints from both sides of the Sound. Mr Robertson added: “I have written to both CalMac and Transport Scotland highlighting the concerns of the two communities affected. Transport Scotland have got back in touch to say they will raise the matter with CalMac directly”.

In a further twist, the timetable is shown to run until 23rd October 2022, although it has already been announced that there will be no services on the Uig-Tarbert-Lochmaddy routes beyond September due to major work at Uig pier.

Making an urgent plea to CalMac, Harris Forum chair, Kenny MacLeod wrote: “We would be happy to discuss this further and to find a way forward that works for our community but meantime request that the status quo be maintained as the vast majority of self-catering accommodation has already been booked and visitors are just waiting for the summer timetable to be opened up, fully expecting there to be two ferries out of Tarbert on a Saturday”.

CalMac’s plans for weekend sailings on the route are the main source of uproar. In a statement, Harris Forum expressed “our total and unanimous objection to the proposed timetable for the summer service between Tarbert and Uig.

“Having fought for many years to have this service expanded to meet the growing needs of our community it is extremely disheartening and unacceptable to see a proposed 50 per cent reduction in sailings out of Tarbert on a Saturday.

“The ferries have struggled to cope with the huge demand for sailings at the weekend up till now with both sailings out of Tarbert fully booked before the end of April. The proposed timetable, which also does away with a further inbound sailing on a Monday morning, would, if enacted cause huge negative economic and logistical problems for Harris during what is the busiest time of the year.

“Saturday is major changeover day for the hospitality industry and it relies heavily on guests being able to travel to and from the island on that day ”.

In his letter to Transport Minister Graeme Dey, Mr Mackinnon writes: “We are genuinely flabbergasted by the proposals, and struggle to see what benefit they provide. We urgently request that you direct the retention of the 2021 Summer timetable, or as close to it as possible for 2022”.

A CalMac spokeswoman said: “The summer timetable is a proposal which is out for consultation and no decisions on it have been taken. We welcome and encourage feedback from local communities about the ferry service and are keen to hear their ideas. All feedback will be given to Transport Scotland before they finalise the timetable.”