Barra and Lochboisdale could soon be enjoying better ferry services to the mainland following an announcement of new proposals by the Minister of Transport and Islands Derek Mackay MSP.
Barra would benefit from a daily direct return service to Oban by a dedicated vessel to deliver a considerable increase in capacity.
There would also be a daily direct return service between Lochboisdale and Mallaig using a dedicated vessel.
At the moment these two routes are currently serviced by one vessel.
Proposals for other services include an additional 50 weekly sailings on the Oban-Craignure route, 10% more sailings on the Mallaig to Armadale route and over a 30% increase in capacity on services to Coll, Tiree and Colonsay.
The planned improvements were prompted by engagement with communities across the Clyde and Hebrides ferry network and the enhanced timetable could start from next summer.
Mr Mackay said: “As Minister for Transport and Islands, I know how important our ferry services are to the communities of the Clyde and Hebrides and the vital role they play in enabling continued and sustainable economic growth for the Islands.
“Since taking up my post I have spoken to stakeholders throughout the network, from councils to ferry users groups, to see if changes can be made to ensure our ferry services continue to deliver the best possible service.
“This enhanced timetable offers a number of improvements: proposals include increasing capacity on certain services, offering more sailings and reorganising vessel deployment to get the most from our ferry fleet.
“It will also help manage the expected increase demand from the full roll out of Road Equivalent Tariff (RET), which gives island residents and visitors access to significantly reduced fares.
“We have also placed an order for two new major vessels and their delivery in 2018 will represent further enhancements to West Coast ferry services.
“These measures underline the Scottish Government’s commitment to essential ferry services for the communities that rely on them and will ensure that our islands remain attractive and accessible to visitors.”
CalMac will now undertake a consultation process with communities across the network to bring these enhancements in as part of next summer’s timetable.
The move was warmly welcomed by Island politicians and community landowner Storas Uibhist, who have been campaigning for better services.
Angus MacMillan, Chairman of Stòras Uibhist said: “We are pleased that the long campaign for the re-introduction of the Lochboisdale-Mallaig service appears to be on the point succeeding.
“This essential service will deliver significant benefits to South Uist and along with the other proposals in the announcement will boost the economies of Scotland’s islands.
“We urge CalMac to progress the consultation speedily and the community to respond strongly in support of the proposal.”
Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan and MP Angus MacNeil also welcomed the proposals.
Alasdair Allan commented: “These proposals represent a significant improvement to the summer ferry service for people in both Barra and South Uist.
“I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government has recognised the long running argument made in Uist for a for a summer service to between Lochboisdale and Mallaig while seeing the distinctive needs of the community in Barra and improving the summer service from Castlebay to Oban.
Mr MacNeil added: “I am absolutely delighted to hear of this improvement for the longest of the Cal Mac routes which is in the south end of the Outer Hebrides, serving Barra and South Uist.
“This is an improvement on a magnificent scale.”