MSP calls for summer ferry trial

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Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has said she is extremely puzzled as to why the cancelled winter sailings on the trial Lochboisdale – Mallaig route are very much higher than cancellations on neighbouring Hebridean routes and she says a summer trial must be sanctioned immediately.

Mrs Grant was recently told by Transport Minister, Derek Mackay, that introducing a summer pilot on the route is not currently possible due to vessel deployment limitations and was advised that the overall vessel deployment programme regularly reviewed by CalMac is “extremely complex and includes consideration of a large number of factors including capacity, demand, reliability, weather, length of crossing, shore infrastructure and vessel suitability.”

The MSP later tabled a further Parliamentary Question asking for the number of cancelled sailings on all of the Outer Hebrides routes.

Commenting on the response she received, Mrs Grant said: “These latest figures I have received show a slight increase in cancellations on all of the Outer Hebrides routes this winter due to the extreme weather conditions which were experienced.

“However while the Barra to Eriskay route experienced an increase of 0.9% cancellations this winter, the neighbouring Lochboisdale – Mallaig route’s cancelled sailings so far this winter are 59.4% - a jump of over 10% from 2013-2014 figures.

Mrs Grant continued: “The level of disquiet and ridicule about the farcical winter trial is escalating. Demand for the Lochboisdale – Mallaig service cannot be accurately gauged with so many cancellations. There has to be a year round trial.

“Anything short of a commitment from the SNP Minister this week will amount to another snub for the community and a wasted journey to South Uist.

Mrs Grant continued: “My colleague, David Stewart, was recently advised that the Lochboisdale – Mallaig route will not be included in the 2016 tender document which is being drawn up.

“Derek Mackay is called the Islands Minister as well as Transport - if he is serious about either he must address this issue and give the green light for a summer trial for this year.”