Will ferry ‘wake up call’ fall on deaf ears?

The staff member describes: 'It's nearly impossible for a local to get a vehicle on any of our crossings, unless they book six months in advance.'
The staff member describes: 'It's nearly impossible for a local to get a vehicle on any of our crossings, unless they book six months in advance.'

Frustrations over travel links to Scotland’s numerous islands continues to grow and it’s not just the public who feel the situation with the ferry network is bad and only getting worse.

This week the Gazette received an email - sent to us by a third party - but authored by a senior, retiring Calmac employee, who in his ‘cheerio’ letter to management listed his concerns about the ferry network, including ships’ capacity, infrastructure and management style.

In the parting epistle, forwarded from a Calmac company email address and copied-in to all of the ferry company’s internal contacts, it seems that Calmac’s insiders - staff - have a growing sense of vexation over how the ferry network is run.

The retiring staff member notes: “My enjoyment and satisfaction in sailing ships and providing a ferry service has been considerably soured in recent years by the increasing amount of drivel emanating from Gourock and passing managers who think they know better than the sea staff (and port staff) who’ve been here for dozens of years.

“When I ask a manager to help solve a problem, I get replies of “are you sure”, “can’t you manage it yourself”, “can you prove it”, “start gathering evidence to support this”, and what seems to be every other delaying tactic. Presumably in the hope that I’ll just get fed up and drop the subject.

SHORE OBSTRUCTION NOT SUPPORT

“What is supposed to be shore support just feels more like shore obstruction. I have become steadily more and more disillusioned and disheartened.

“In my 32 years, the service hasn’t changed much. We still go from A to B, and sometimes C, inventing endless workarounds for ships that don’t fit piers, gangways that don’t fit ships, and inadequate marshalling areas and terminal facilities.

“Our infrastructure is now totally out of date and any attempts to address this have just been temporary stopgaps.

“We (CMal) have just built Brodick. Well… wrong pier, unreliable PAS (Passenger Access System), inappropriate terminal and inadequate marshalling area. And it took a year and a half to do.

“The plan for Ardrossan is pretty “half-baked” too. They should be building a new pier and terminal over beside the tanker berth and solving the operational problems, not continuing them.

“All the management (and information technology) in the world is not going to make wrong infrastructure right.

FIX INFRASTRUCTURE PROBLEMS

“Attention needs to be focussed on fixing the infrastructure problems, if the company I’ve been proud to be part of, is to carry on without falling flat on its face fairly soon.

“Our piers were built maybe 70 years ago for puffers to dry out alongside. We added a linkspan and dolphin, and called them RoRo terminals.

“We need to be planning piers that will accommodate a five metre draught, and we need to be doing it 10 years ago, not 10 years from now. Preferably solid, double sided piers with a linkspan on both sides.

“Marshalling areas for more than the ships’ capacity. Departure lounges/waiting areas equivalent to the ship’s capacity.

“Then we need to be building a fleet to suit. Draught is our biggest physical obstruction to progress.”

IMPOSSIBLE FOR LOCALS TO GET VEHICLE BOOKED ON FERRY

He added: “It’s nearly impossible for a local to get a vehicle on any of our crossings now, unless they book six months in advance.

“I have island family connections and I’m getting really upset with this situation. I’m pretty sure all of our island customers feel the same.

“You could consider trebling the cost of motorhomes, which fill our ships and clog up island roads. Admit it. RET was badly implemented.

“This is certainly NOT meeting our commitment to a lifeline service.

“More capacity is not a solution. We need to be reserving space for locals, say 10%, until, say, 48 hours before the sailing, and then releasing it to everyone else.

“This wouldn’t waste space as there will always be standbys for a full sailing. It would, of course, need some sort of registration procedure and island postcode to avoid abuse.

“Rather than thinking I’m just having a rant, I suggest shore management look on this as a serious wake up call and start listening and paying attention to what’s really important.”

When asked about the points highlighted by the retiring staff member and what reaction there was to his concerns - if any - from management, a Calmac company spokesperson was unable to throw much light on how the ‘home truths’ were received, and notably, there was no comment about the accuracy of the information presented in the letter.

Calmac would only say: “CalMac’s management culture is open and inclusive. Any member of staff who feels strongly about a subject is free to raise it at the highest level. Our Managing Director’s door is always open to anyone and we would expect our leaders to raise any concerns internally in order that they may be addressed through the appropriate channels.”