CalMac propose cancellation charges up to 100% of fare

CalMac are proposing a sliding scale of up to 100% of vehicle fare would be forfeited if you fail to travel on the intended sailing. In addition, a £10 fee would be charged if you need to change your booking.

This is intended to address the issue of ‘no shows’, and to reduce the number of unused car spaces on each sailing.

We have not yet had the opportunity to discuss this with CalMac, but have a letter detailing the proposals that you can read below. In response to press inquiries, we have responded with the statement below. If you have any comments on this policy please contact us or comment.

We have just learned of CalMac’s proposal to charge for failure to use a booking. We will have to consider it fully before responding in detail. We acknowledge that ‘no-shows’ are a problem for the service, and we often witness ferries departing with much less than a full car deck, even though online ticket sales had closed because the sailing was ‘full’. We are not convinced however that punitive charges are the best or fairest way to address this problem, nor that ‘no-shows’ can by themselves account for the under-utilisation witnessed.

There are often many legitimate reasons for failing to arrive at a sailing on time – for example, as a result of traffic delays en-route to the port, or changes to travel plans due to weather (for example moving livestock to and from the mainland). This initial proposal from CalMac seems to be that if we are held up by a traffic jam in Glasgow and miss our intended sailing, we will forfeit our entire ticket fare. That cannot be right or just.

We would also point out that any policy or service being applied to the islands must have an Island Communities Impact Assessment (ICIA) carried out on it, under the terms of the Islands Act. The government guidance on the Act – “…stresses the importance of consultation and robust community engagement so that islanders are given a platform to voice their opinions, concerns and suggestions. It is also important that you make sure islands receive fair and equitable treatment and that your policy, strategy or service outcomes are tailored to their unique circumstances.”

We have already written to the company pointing out that no ICIA was carried out on their new ticketing IT system, planned to be introduced this year. CalMac denied that an ICIA was needed on the grounds that it was a ticketing ‘system’ and not a ticketing ‘service’ (The Act requires an ICIA to be carried out on ‘services or policies’). Use of such semantic arguments to circumvent proper consultation does not suggest respect for the Act or empathy for islanders. There can be no such semantic argument in the case of these proposed charges, because they describe it themselves as a policy.

These new punitive cancellation charges are being proposed together with the explicit justification that it is “…comparable to the policies of other UK ferry operators.” The Islands Act requires that policies and services are “tailored to the unique circumstances of Scottish islands”. Enacting a policy in the Hebrides because it is comparable to the policies of P&O or DFDS across the English channel is the exact antithesis of being ‘tailored to unique circumstances of Scottish islands’. We understand that CalMac intends to begin consultations with Ferry Committees this month, and we trust that indicates the beginning of a full ICIA consultation process.

CalMac say this policy is aimed at “discouraging those who make multiple reservations, then cancel the ones they no longer require at late notice”. With the introduction of CalMac’s new IT system, identification of repeat offenders would be a relatively simple task – surely a more targeted and fair approach would be to identify those few repeat abusers of the process, rather than penalising all islanders. It will also be far less bureaucratic and complex. They appear to be using a punitive and indiscriminate hammer to break this particular nut.

10 thoughts on “CalMac propose cancellation charges up to 100% of fare

  1. I don’t understand.
    If I had made a ferry booking to enable me to attend a hospital appointment in Glasgow I would have paid for it at point of booking. So, if I am subsequently too ill to travel on the day, and have to cancel, I cannot reclaim my money? If I had booked a hotel room in Glasgow for that hospital appointment I would be able to cancel at no cost to me.

  2. This does not look the right way to go about improving utilisation. It will be hugely unpopular and unfair to those who have to change long term plans through some force majeure. What happens if a booking is changed/cancelled and CalMac subsequently cancel the sailing?

    What percentage of slots are vacant due to no shows and how many due to people taking an earlier sailing?

    Is this another attempt to deflect criticism arising from unreliability and capacity shortcomings?

    A better way forward might be to have a more frequent regular service and abandon booking altogether: one does not book to go over a bridge.

  3. Donald MacCuish 22nd April 2022 — 5:17 pm

    Is there not a similar policy in place on other Scottish islands ? I’m thinking of Northlinks policy’s for Orkney and Shetland

  4. I can understand that Calmac want to reduce the number of ‘no-shows’. Since they take the money in advance that’s easily done if the vehicle and passengers simply don’t turn up, and give no notice. However, we all know how suddenly the best laid plans have to be changed (often for reasons entirly outside our own control), and we should not be penalised if we have to change our bookings at short notice.
    As a quid pro quo perhaps Calmac would like to consider compensation when ferries are cancelled, particularly when this results in other additional costs for islanders.
    Given the current booking system, which penalises islanders over ‘one trip a year’ tourists, I’m not surprised some people make multiple bookings and then cancel those they don’t need. It’s a rational response to the system.

  5. Bruce Blackadder 23rd April 2022 — 12:48 pm

    We have to pay on booking so the idea of people making multiple bookings and only turning up for one seems a bit far fetched. I know this did happen in the past quite a long time ago with at least one commercial business and the problem seems to be more with commercials than anyone else. Perhaps they do not want local travellers and prefer to deal with tourists. The theory would be that local travellers could use Lochaline ferry. Not very handy for going to Oban tho’, being a bit less able than I would like to be I need to take my car to Oban for any appointments rather than travelling as a foot passenger. I sometimes wonder why I still live here.

  6. On busy days when sailing I require is “fully booked” , I book on a later sailing but invariably turn up for the sailing time I really wanted, go into the standby lane and (usually) get on the ferry. Will this be classed as a no-show and result in a 100% “fine” for not travelling on booked ferry?

    1. I did just that last week when sailings were cancelled by Calmac and I could not get an alternative booking. I turned up on standby for a “ fully booked” sailing and got on no problem.

    2. Bruce Blackadder 3rd May 2022 — 6:13 pm

      I did just that last week when they cancelled several sailings in one morning. I could not get any convenient alternative but just turned up for a “fully booked “ sailing on standby and got on with no problem.

  7. As noted in the article, sometimes ferries depart with a part-full deck, even though the ferry was fully booked.

    Seems that some canny islanders, fed up with not being able to travel when they need, pre-emptively book many slots and then just cancel the day before. This ensures that they can get off-on the islands when they need.

    Of course it plays merry hell with people who book as and when needed.

    I have sympathy for both sides here. It is very frustrating, as an Islander, to not be able to travel when I need. Or to tell family who want to visit “make sure you book 6-8 weeks ahead”.

  8. David Cartwright 1st May 2022 — 10:34 pm

    Interesting that they are not proposing an exemption from cancellation fee if you cancel because CalMac issue a yellow or amber warning that the service is liable to disruption.

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