Today Calmac revealed more details about their plans for the new eight year ferry contract. They won the contract in a tender held last year. Most folk on the islands in the West of Scotland, and tourists alike, rely on good ferry transport and the fact that Calmac won the contract was welcomed by many island communities. It's always pleasant to see the black, white and red ferries arriving in island ports and you know that a drink, a warm meal, a usually pleasant journey without delays and your next destination or home await you. The staff on board are friendly and helpful and the general feeling is that Calmac is doing a great job. Does this mean that all is well?
MV Finlaggan in the Sound of Islay
There are a few things Calmac can, and should, improve in my opinion such as:
- They should come up with a solution where all their ferries fit all link spans in all the island ports. That would make them more flexible and more capable of exchanging ferries from one route to another in the event of breakdowns or if more capacity is needed elsewhere.
- It's important that Calmac starts with contingency planning when breakdowns or accidents occur, see the recent events during the busy summer season when the Islay service was down to one ferry and folk had to cancel their holiday.
- They should also improve their standby system. It sometimes happens that folk are on the waiting list and end up on an almost empty ferry.
- Better connectivity with public transport is also essential. Recently a bus with a lot of foot-passengers arrived at Kennacraig from Glasgow whilst seeing the ferry just leaving, a very frustrating experience! How is this possible? Does the coach driver not communicate with the staff in the port?
- And perhaps most important of all, Islay needs more ferry capacity during peak times. Now that Calmac has an extra crew trained for the MV Finlaggan, wouldn't it be a great idea to have it sail freight overnight at peak times to create extra space during the day sailings?
Some of the issues above are addressed in the new plans such as improved public transport connectivity and a better capacity utilisation. The more pressing issues such as contingency planning, extra capacity and link span improvement don't seem to be addressed. Continue reading....
So what changes can ferry travellers expect in the near future:
- An investment of £6m in on-board and port and passenger area improvements including consistent signage, a standard look and feel to customer sitting and waiting areas, upgraded restaurant counters and retail outlets, piloting an ‘at seat’ drinks trolley service, and digital information screens, all aimed at improving customer accessibility and experience.
- The appointment of a Director of Community and Stakeholder Engagement and to create a Communities Board to involve communities in strategic matters that affect them.
- The appointment of a Transport Integration Manager to work with other providers on timetable planning, disruption management, and the displaying of digital travel information at ports and vessels to improve public transport connectivity and quality of customer information.
- Daily demand forecasting combined with the introduction of variable terms and conditions to discourage late cancellations and no shows. This will lead to improved accessibility for customers, better capacity utilisation and greater certainty of travel.
- The introduction of smart and integrated ticketing offering multi-modal ticketing to provide improved choice and convenience for passengers.
All good intentions and nice words. I guess we'll have to wait and see what the future brings and if Calmac is capable of delivering what they promise. Two new ships are currently being built and hopefully they will bring some relief to the ageing Calmac fleet although these new ships will not sail on the Islay route as things look now. It also means that the Hebridean Isles, one of the oldest ferries in the fleet, will likely serve Islay for a few more years to come and we all know what that means....