Island Focused Winter Timetable

Last November we asked you if we should once again try to achieve the Island Focused Timetable that we have campaigned for since 2010. You gave us overwhelming support, but nevertheless today we learned that our request has been declined on cost grounds.

An ‘Island Focused’ service is one that meets the needs of islanders, simply by basing the ferry on Mull, rather than the mainland. That would result in earlier departures off the island and later returns; a longer useable day on the mainland with easier onward connections, better public transport links and new opportunities to travel.

Pier too short / ferry too long.

Because Craignure Pier is too short to allow the safe over-night berthing of the MV Isle of Mull every night in winter, a true Island Focused service is not possible. So the core of our request this year was for additional sailings to operate at the beginning and end of each day (a total of 4 extra return journeys – see below), whilst still basing the ferry in Oban on most nights of the week. With such a large crew (28 in winter) who are already working close to their legal maximum hours, these few extra sailings could only be achieved by adding more crew members – at a cost we understand to be around half a million pounds annually.

The timetable in green was our request for this winter. Blue is what could be achieved if routine overnight berthing in Craignure was possible.

We tried to find cost savings

We did our best to explore all possible cost savings – we got the agreement of Argyll & Bute Council to waive additional pier dues, and examined carrying statistics in order to build the case for general crew savings. Crew numbers are in great part dictated by the passenger carrying limits, and the Isle of Mull is certified and licenced to carry nearly 1000 people. However, on less than 5% of sailings in summer does she carry any more than 500 people. Despite never carrying remotely close to the numbers she is crewed for, CalMac were unable to offer any general crew savings that would offset the cost of the additional sailings we requested.

Our problem is therefore in great part the ferry – she has a vastly larger passenger capacity than required, and consequently she is very expensive to crew (around £3.1 million each year). Coupled to this, because all crew live aboard, once crew working time limits are reached she has to stop work for the day, and any marginal increase in working time (such as that we requested) gets very expensive.

One day we will win this.

Despite losing this battle, we have not lost the war! There are many positives – Paul Wheelhouse (Islands Minister) and Transport Scotland now very clearly understand what the community wants, and they have undertaken to include our needs within the Islands Connectivity Plan. The Islands Connectivity Plan is the ten year strategic plan for ferries that will supersede the Ferries Plan of 2013. Consultation on that will be commencing soon, and it will cover the period in which the MV Isle of Mull will be replaced, among other things.

Argyll and Bute Council are also currently working on interim improvement plans for Craignure Pier that will enable the Isle of Mull to berth overnight routinely – we expect to see the Outline Business Case for that very soon.

You can download the ministerial response to our timetable request here:

Annual General Meeting

If you would like to contribute to improving our ferry service, we want to hear from you! Our Annual General Meeting is scheduled for August 27th (venue to be decided), and we have spaces available. We want to make sure we represent the breadth of Mull and Iona communities fully. If you might be interested, please email the chair Joe Reade.

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