Essential timetable extended as CalMac freeze bookings

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Ferry operator CalMac is extending its current essential lifeline service timetable until June 14 and is also putting a freeze on all future bookings until the same date.

The moves are a direct result of the intervention of the Arran Ferry Committee who had growing concerns of a huge influx of tourists heading  to Arran from mid-July amid fears the island may not be ready to cope with large numbers of visitors.

The company had been allowing bookings to be made from July 15 onwards but in light of a fast changing COVID-19 environment, has decided to suspend future bookings until a new timetable is agreed with Transport Scotland.

The relaxation coincided the start of the Glasgow Fair and several sailings after that date were already indicating they were approaching full capacity bringing boatloads of visitors to the island, although it remains uncertain what, if any tourist facilities, will be open by that time.

As a result, the ferry committee wrote to CalMac managing director Robbie Drummond to express their worries around the future travel arrangements for the summer and the practice of accepting bookings beyond July 16.

In a statement, issued to the Banner as we went to press, CalMac’s commercial director, Diane Burke said: ‘Extending our current essential lifeline service timetable until the middle of next month gives us an opportunity to work with Transport Scotland to put in place a timetable that will continue to ensure the welfare of our island communities.’

‘We will continue to follow guidance and advice from the Scottish Government in planning future timetables.’

CalMac is currently operating to an essential travel timetable that has seen demand for services reduced by 95 per cent since the start of the coronavirus emergency.

‘Our focus as we develop this new timetable will continue to be on providing priority lifeline services. There will be no significant change to our operation for the foreseeable future. In line with any government changes in travel restrictions we will take a considered approach to opening up our services gradually when the time is right to do so,’ added Ms Burke.

In their letter to the CalMac boss the ferry committee had asked that all future bookings were cancelled and no new bookings accepted, until there was confidence that procedures are in place to deal with increased numbers and they would be manageable within the island health care services.

They had also requested that future transport procedures must ensure priority to permanent residents’ travel with return travel assured prior to their departure from Brodick.

They said the operator should start to work with the committee, which is seen as critical, to understand the island’s priorities before considering releasing any online bookings, to which CalMac has agreed.

An Arran Ferry Committee spokesman said: ‘The committee continue to engage with all service providers to represent the majority views of the residents of Arran and it is with regret we will need to reschedule our AGM which should take place at the end of June but we do not wish to proceed until we can ensure appropriate measures are in place for social distancing etc.

‘We will publish a revised date when we can until then please continue to raise any questions through your representatives.’

Information for customers who have already booked a future journey can be found on the CalMac website, along with the latest advice on ferry travel. CalMac will continue to waive its refund request fee.

The Isle of Arran Ferry Committee logo.