As of the 21st of October Calmac has changed from Summer to Winter timetables. Now usually this is not that newsworthy but this time there is a nice touch to it, well for most of us. Together with the winter timetable the Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) has been implemented. This means for the regular visitor of the island that the fares have gone down by more than 40%. Before the 21st of October the fare of a car and two passengers was Â£150 and now it is only Â£88, quite a difference and perhaps a good reason for more visitors to come to Islay.
The RET scheme was already implemented in the Western Isles and over there it proved to be very successful, in fact it is too successful because some locals are complaining that too many tourists come to the island who spend too little in the local economy. Let's hope this will not happen on Islay although you can't please everyone.
Speaking of locals. I mentioned that visitors of Islay pay a lot less now for their trip than before but for the locals and very regular visitors it's a different situation. Before the RET they could buy a six journey ticket which included a discount so they already paid less. Now with RET implemented there is no such thing as a six journey ticket so the locals only profit marginally, well in fact those that used to buy six journey tickets. Those who didn't buy such a ticket profit equally. Now the strange thing is that HGV traffic cannot benefit from RET and also strange, strictly speaking of course, is that there should be a difference in ferry fares between Kennacraig to Port Ellen and Kennacraig to Port Askaig if RET formula's would have been applied to the letter, although that would be a bit too far fetched if you ask me. Most people would probably want to book the cheaper route so where would that leave the hard fought for Finlaggan ferry in Port Ellen. I think it's good that fares are the same for Port Askaig and Port Ellen. Continue reading...
This year, and perhaps in other years to come, there is one nasty side effect to the winter timetable. From the 1st of December of this year the MV Finlaggan will be pulled from the Islay service and she will be servicing the Western Isles for almost four months. Interesting will be to find out what advertisers on the big screens will get for compensation, if any! There will be a replacement ferry but that one will be smaller than the MV Finlaggan, that's why there will be five sailings a day instead of the regular four sailings. That leaves Islay with two older ferries in the winter, let's hope there will be no breakdowns or other problems.
I did mention possible ferry breakdowns on purpose because it is a fact the Calmac fleet of ferries is aging and it is no exception that ferries currently servicing islands in the Hebrides are well over 25 years old. This means that action, and a lot of money, is needed to upgrade the fleet to keep on maintaining reliable ferry services.
Some people on Islay don't have faith in this and they want to take matters into their own hands and talk about the possibility of an Islay owned ferry. They have planned a meeting tonight, Wednesday 24th October at 7.30pm at Ionad Chalum Chille Ile to present a proposal of a community ferry. The following letter appeared in the Ileach of 20 October:
Dear Editor: The proposed idea of a community ferry for Islay has generated much discussion on the island â€“ and it may well have helped prompt the proposed extra sailings from Calmac once â€œFinlagganâ€ is removed from the Islay route this winter. While these sailings are most welcome, and things have improved slightly since the introduction of â€œFinlagganâ€, as a number of Calmac ferries, including the â€œHebridean Islesâ€, reach the end of their â€œ30-year lifeâ€ all that could change.
After 40 years, with the proposal for a community ferry, we once more have a choice for a ferry that will respond to the islands needs. This time it will be under government contract and run in conjunction with at least one Calmac vessel. This new vessel will be owned by a Community Ferry Company and contracted to the Government to operate at least 4 sailings per day on a seven-year time charter. It will be a newly built, economical to run, environmentally friendly vessel with low emissions. It will be crewed by island residents. It cannot be taken away from the route, it will not be subjected to strike threats and it will run to a schedule and ports as decided by the locally based board of directors.
The rates charged will be RET the same as with Calmac. The proposed community ferry will not make demands on the governmentâ€™s hard pressed capital budget, leaving more funds for education and health. All it requires is that we who live in these islands support it wholeheartedly and show this to the politicians.
A public meeting will be convened at Ionad Chalum Chille Ile on Wednesday 24th October at 7.30pm to explain the proposal in detail and ask for your support. This government wishes to encourage community initiative and we must show them that Islay and Jura are up to the mark. Instead of waiting â€“ perhaps for ten years as we waited for â€œFinlagganâ€ â€“ expecting someone else to provide a solution, we can take control of at least a section of our own future.
Jack Fleming & Paul Graham
The meeting was attended by 21 members of the public. They listened to the proposal and asked pertinent questions after the main presentation and were able to view the plans of the vessel. The result of the meeting was that we received 21 signatures of support from those present. We now will attend the Community Council meeting of 7th November to engage further with them and hopefully gain a positive majority and statement of support from them.