An unfair booking system

Last month’s blog post regarding the Utne (now re-named Loch Frisa) highlighted that our summer congestion problem is destined to become worse. Every sailing by the Loch Frisa will have six fewer car spaces than the Coruisk that it replaces.

The Craignure-Oban service has occupied either first or second place in the league table of CalMac congestion for the past three years. A service where the most significant problem is insufficient capacity is – bizarrely – having its summer capacity reduced.

In conjunction with a critical lack of capacity, we have a booking system that is systemically prejudiced against island residents. First-come-first-served ticket sales inevitably mean that those who can plan their journey further ahead get a higher priority than those who cannot. Shopping trips, visits to friends and family, medical appointments, funerals, business trips – anything that is difficult to plan ahead – are treated as lower priority than those arranged months or weeks ahead of time. Inevitably this means that space is allocated to holiday makers ahead of islanders. Journeys that are less easy to plan ahead are still legitimate and important (often the most important of all), but a crude first-come-first-served booking system puts islanders at the back of the queue.

We have written and spoken with Transport Scotland and CalMac on this topic on numerous occasions. However there is not yet any indication that attempts are being made to make our ferry system fairer. There are various ways that things could be improved, such as simply leaving more car spaces available to turn-up-and-go passengers; releasing space on a phased basis as sailing date approaches or making some spaces bookable only by island residents.

CalMac will this year be introducing a new ticketing system that should fix some significant failings in the current setup. Among other things, it will become possible to buy concessionary tickets online, and the calculation of available car deck space will be more accurate. The new multi-million pound computer system should have all the functionality that a fairer ticketing system will need, but there seems to be reluctance to consider anything other than a crude first-come-first-served means of allocating car deck space.

We will continue to lobby Transport Scotland to make changes, as well as making direct appeals to Transport Minister Graeme Dey and our MSP Jenni Minto. We know that it it’s a hugely important issue for everyone on Mull and Iona, so the more people who write on this topic the better – we would encourage you to email Jenni at to make your feelings known.

Below is an article from Monday’s Herald that covers the issue.

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