On Monday past, the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee met with Robbie Drummond, the Managing Director of CalMac. He had asked to attend our meeting following a Twitter exchange concerning a recent ferry cancellation, and we were very happy for him to join us.
He gave interesting insights into the current pressures and difficulties that CalMac have. For example:
The ticketing and reservation system is based on 1980s technology and is not as flexible and sophisticated as they would like it to be. It is the root cause of many of the administrative ‘hassles’ we experience in booking and buying tickets. It also hampers CalMac’s ability to properly measure demand – they don’t know for example, how many people have attempted to book a particular sailing but have been unable to due to lack of space. This means they have no way of knowing what the real un-met demand for a particular sailing might be, and how frequently passengers are booking their second or third best travel option. If they had this data, they would be able to make better informed arguments with Transport Scotland regarding the ferries they are provided with to run the service, and the shape of the timetable.
Provision for a modern ticketing system was included in their contract submission in 2016, but as yet Government have not provided the funds needed for the investment.
The ageing fleet is an increasing problem, as has been widely reported. Repairs are becoming much more expensive and difficult, because in many cases the equipment they have to fix is obsolete. The vessels are not unusually old when compared with some other ferry fleets, but other operators (who own their own ships) would typically invest in a mid-life re-fit of key systems that none of the older members of the CMAL fleet have had. Ships are also spending more time at sea due to having busier timetables and the lack of any spare vessels in the summer. In order to help combat this, new teams of ‘in service’ engineers are being formed to carry out work on board, that previously would have had to wait for routine winter dry-docking.
Our main topic for the evening was winter reliability however. The MIFC have been collecting evidence and data to back up the widespread perception that services are now cancelled due to conditions in which historically they would have continued to run. Here you can see an updated version of the presentation that we gave on the subject.
Mr Drummond has undertaken to take our findings back to his senior management team for consideration. He believes that ageing infrastructure (both piers and ferries) is a major factor, and that weather patterns have worsened. We believe that he is partially correct concerning infrastructure (for example the age of Craignure pier), but that there are many factors that are in CalMac’s control that are also big contributors. However, Robbie has committed to working closely with the MIFC to overcome both the reliability issues and the long stated need for a winter timetable which gives us a full day on the mainland.
We also discussed our ongoing users’ survey (if you haven’t completed it please do so here), and presented some interim results. One key finding that we were happy to pass on were the many positive comments concerning CalMac staff, particularly those on the front line. Whilst there may be issues with service delivery, there is widespread and deserved appreciation for the hard work of all our local crew and staff.
The survey will continue to run until the middle of March (to ensure that those who don’t ‘do’ Facebook and are more likely to get their local news from Round and About get a chance to complete it), after which we will publish the final results.