Everything is of course dominated by Coronavirus right now, and the impact on Scottish ferry services has been profound. We as a committee have been in the unusual position of negotiating reduction in services, and most discussions have been around how few sailings we can get by with.
The emergency timetables remain in effect, and have been confirmed in place until May 7th at least. Traffic on all routes serving Mull is dramatically reduced. Days that last year would have seen 1,500 passengers shipped are now typically seeing around 40 – 50 on a week day. General carryings are around 96% down, and are staying down.
The use of Oban-Craignure services on Sundays was so low (3 cars for the entirety of Easter Sunday) that continuing with them was obviously unnecessary and wasteful. After consulting with as many retailers of Sunday papers as possible, it was agreed with CalMac that Sunday sailings could be dropped. This further reduction in service also helped to send the ‘message’ that Mull and Iona are currently closed to tourist traffic.
Many people’s concerns right now are focused on unnecessary travel in both directions. Rest assured that whilst you may occasionally see an unfamiliar car, the number of passenger movements on and off the island are very low and show no trend of increasing. Movements on and off the island are equivalent to around 25 return passengers. That’s the same as 0.8% of the Mull population, so the island has pretty much achieved isolation from the rest of the country.
We will continue to monitor the passenger figures, but it does seem that the lock-down conditions are by and large being very well observed so far as ferry travel is concerned. If you do need to travel, remember to take photo ID and some proof of residence, to make sure you can get back! There have been incidents where island residents have not been able to produce these documents on return and have been refused boarding. ALL services, including those from Lochaline and Kilchoan have been instructed by CalMac head office in Gourock to follow the same ID check protocols.
When the national lock-down begins to be relaxed, people will obviously be able to start using the ferries more – but for the next 2 – 3 weeks at least, there will be no change.
One note on cars – both we and CalMac have been trying to get permission from the MCA (the agency that regulates shipping safety) to allow car drivers and their passengers to remain in their cars on the Oban – Craignure crossing. The idea being that this would enable people to avoid mixing in the public spaces on board. The MCA did not give permission for this to happen on the MV Isle of Mull. They did allow it on the Coruisk (as well as a few other boats on short crossings with open car decks). Unfortunately however, CalMac are suffering from low crew availability because of illness, shielding or isolation. They do not have enough crew with the correct experience and training to operate the Coruisk, so for now she remains idle. The number of people using the MV Isle of Mull is so low however, that there is plenty of room to swing dozens of cats AND observe social distancing rules.
Looking further ahead and ‘normal’ life resuming, we continue to work on achieving the Island Focussed Winter Service. Initial budget delays caused by the General Election, and now the Covid 19 crisis has put back any decisions on next winter’s timetable. There will be no publication of winter timetables until the emergency timetable is replaced with the full summer schedule. We have meetings arranged for the end of the month with both Transport Scotland and CalMac. (probably on Zoom, since we are all getting more familiar with it…). We hope to make some progress with the complex issues that currently prevent us having a longer operating day in the winter. We hope we won’t be waiting too much longer to get news on that front.