Arran ferry service has crisis of confidence

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By Hugh Boag

Serious disruption to the Arran ferry services is costing the island £7 million every year in lost revenue to the island, a new report reveals.

The report was produced by the Arran Ferry Committee who believe there is now a real crisis of confidence in the ferry service which they say is not fit for purpose.

A delegation from the committee took their concerns to the Scottish parliament this week where, along with Arran MSP Kenneth Gibson, they held talks with Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse. See next week’s Banner for a full report.

They took with them a hard-hitting report on the effects the unreliability of the service has become with the cancellation rate double in the first quarter of 2019 to what it was the previous years.

Concerns have been brought to a head by the major disruption caused last month after the MV  Caledonian Isles had to be taken out of service for repair after crashing into the pier.

The delegation involved in the Holyrood talks were Arran Community Council chairman Bill Calderwood, Arran Economic Group chairman Tom Tracey and development director Sheena Borthwick-Toomey.

The report they took to the minister stated: ‘An ageing fleet, two boats under roster, ageing port infrastructure (Ardrossan) an inflexible labour force, a scheduling and information system from the last century, combines to create a significant threat to Arran’s social and economic cohesion. We are sure we are not alone. The size of the threat requires an appropriate response. We will only increase confidence through improved results. We ask your support. ‘

The report went on: ‘Current and future sustainability depends upon an accessible Island with high growth rate and high quality of life, making Arran the place to live, work and visit.

‘Demand exceeds capacity with one vessel for seven months and unreliability of the second vessel for the remaining five months. The service promotes frustration, confusion, low confidence and reputational damage, threatening the current and future sustainability of our island. The service is not fit for purpose.’

The extensive report, compiled in association with VisitArran, contains  testimonials from every sector of the island. ‘Sentiment has moved from irritation to severe frustration. Lives and livelihoods are being significantly impacted,’ it states.

Missed hospital appointments, educational opportunities, family gatherings, business meetings are extremely annoying but have no monetary value. However, revenue loss is estimated at £7m annually with a 6 per cent increase in cost.

Passengers and car volumes increased by 19 per cent (2014-19), slightly ahead of TMfS predicted increases of 25 per cent cars and 44 per cent freight 2014-37.

The report says that the required response is to develop and implement a harbour, ferry and people plan that promotes maximum flexibility across harbours, fleet and crews to meet demand, but it says with a resolution is at least two years away.  Arran and other island communities need an interim plan to fill this gap.

It says immediate action is needed to:

  • Provide increased ferry capacity by supplying new crews to the existing fleet and/or lease additional capacity on the international Market. Use cash saved from operational budget not spent on the MV Glen Sannox.
  • Implement capacity management, scheduling, ticketing and communication system to optimise the existing capacity and improve Customer Service.
  • Develop a commercial problem solving and customer service ethos e.g. Next two weekend schedule full. Boat available. Not in use. 4) Monitor, measure and report on all of the above on a monthly basis. Your customers need hope.


Heading: Extra holiday sailings

The meeting with Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse brought an immediate benefit after it was announced that Arran would get additional sailings for the next three weekends.

As reported by the Banner in March the Arran Ferry Committee had been pressing for the island’s second boat to start the summer service early as it had not been due to begin sailings until May 2. Many of the MV Caledonian Isle sailings over next few weekends are already full.

Sailings for the Easter weekend had already been secured but it has now been announced that the MV Isle of Arran will operate from Friday to Sunday both this weekend and next providing a significant back-up.

The additional Easter sailings will operate from Thursday April 18 to Monday April 22 inclusive.


The MV Caledonian Isles was damaged after crashing into the pier. NO_B12ferry01