We are second-class passengers on our own boats

MV Samo of Denmark, which operates a dual ticketing system, one for islanders and another for visitors. Photograph: Allan.Kortsen MarineTraffic.com.

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Sub-heading: Island communities join forces to call for fairer ferry ticketing system

By Colin Smeeton

Islanders are being treated as second-class passengers on their own lifeline ferry services.

That is the view of community groups on Arran and four other Scottish islands who are calling for a review of the ‘first-come-first-served’ ticketing system used by CalMac which they say is prejudiced against islanders when trying to secure tickets for sailings which are being snapped up by tourists.

Arran Ferry Action Group (AFAG) and Mull and Iona Ferry Committee (MIFC) polled residents on an alternative system which they say involved 30 per cent of the adult population of each island and where 95 to 96 per cent of those polled supported a proposal to move to a system which can provide availability for islanders.

The proposed alternative system is modelled on a system used on the Danish island of Samso. Like Arran and Mull, Samso is a popular tourist destination where if left unchecked, tourist demand would prevent islanders accessing the ferry when they need to. The Samso ferry company operates two booking lists, one for islanders and one for everyone else. Islanders have an account card that gives them access to space reserved on each sailing exclusively for them.

Car deck space reserved for islanders cannot be pre-sold to visitors and the amount of space reserved for islanders is adjusted on a sailing-by-sailing basis, using ticket sales data to predict how many car spaces will need to be reserved for islanders on a particular sailing.

AFAG chairman Sam Bourne described the need for change as ‘essential’. He said: ‘If such a fair and elegant system can work in Denmark, there is no reason why it could not work here too. It should not be too much to ask of our ferry service that those who rely on it as a lifeline are able to use it when they need it. Given there is insufficient current capacity to meet growing demand, a system that ensures more balanced access to the available ferry sailings for islanders is essential.’

Joe Reade, MIFC chairman. added: ‘Selling tickets on a first-come, first-served basis effectively means the further ahead you can plan your journey, the more likely you are to be given a space. This means that tourists, who plan their journeys weeks or months ahead, are prioritised before islanders who cannot plan every shopping trip or family visit so far ahead of time.

‘Islanders find themselves trapped during the summer, unable to get a vehicle ticket because they’ve all been sold to tourists. This prejudicial system is no longer acceptable. We are treated as second-class passengers on our own lifeline service. Often the trips with shortest notice are the most important – hospital visits, funerals and livestock movements, for example. All too often islanders can’t make those essential trips because the ferry is full of motorhomes and holidaymakers.’

Mull and Iona Ferry Committee presented the findings of its polls to CalMac management who confirmed that from an administrative and operational perspective, the Samso system could be implemented. But since the first come, first-served policy is government-prescribed, it is up to Transport Scotland and the minister for transport Jenny Gilruth to take action.

Transport Scotland said it understood the impact of capacity constraints on islanders and appreciated the suggestion of some level of prioritisation.

A spokesman said: ‘It is clear we need a ferry service that meets the needs of island communities. CalMac Ferries Limited and Transport Scotland are looking at potential short-term measures that could be introduced to help alleviate the current capacity challenges.’


MV Samo of Denmark, which operates a dual ticketing system, one for islanders and another for visitors. Photograph: Allan.Kortsen MarineTraffic.com. B25tickets01