December round-up of ferry news part two – Isle of Mull dry-dock delay, next winter’s timetable, 10 minute check-in rule, and more…

MV Isle of Mull delayed in dry-dock

The Isle of Mull entered dry-dock in Aberdeen in mid-November, and she is still there. She was scheduled to be back on the Craignure-Oban run just after Christmas. So until around the 11th or 12th of January we are reduced to the Loch Frisa, supplemented by the Clansman operating some services when she can. You can view the temporary timetable here.

If the IOM returns on Jan 12th, we will have her on service for just a week, before she moves on elsewhere. We will then have five weeks of Loch-Frisa-only service. For much of March we will have just the Isle of Mull whilst the Frisa is in dry-dock. See the schedule below.

We had previously been told that should the second vessel be unavailable for some reason, that the service would fall-back to the full Loch-Frisa-only timetable that operates during the red periods above. However, due to many of the Loch Frisa crew being on annual leave at the moment, this has not been possible. Dry-docking delay is a common occurrence and easily foreseeable. Full crews on the Frisa should have been ensured for the period immediately after dry-docking, as a contingency for this scenario. We have expressed that view firmly to CalMac.

Public transport and Iona connections have also been badly impacted by this. More on that topic later…

Winter timetables 2023/24

CalMac are working to catch up with their timetable planning process, which was so hugely delayed in the run-up to winter 22/23 due to the closure of Uig. So we are being asked for proposals for next winter’s timetable a full 10 months ahead of its introduction, which is much better.

Our central request will be that we have a 2 vessel service guaranteed all-winter long.

However, prior to the arrival of the Loch Frisa we never asked for a second vessel in the winter. Our objective was an improved and cost-effective island-focussed timetable that could have been operated by one ferry – either by extending the operating hours of the MV Isle of Mull (refused on grounds that the £500k annual cost was unaffordable); or by replacing the Isle of Mull with a vessel that could berth overnight in Craignure everyday (the Indonesian catamaran, refused by CMAL for reasons of dogma and incompetence).

The Loch Frisa (cost £9.5m) is simply not capable of delivering service to Mull on her own, because she is so small and slow. In order to deliver an island-focussed timetable with workable connections, another vessel has to work alongside her. So we will be insisting that is what is delivered next year, all winter-long.

If you have any requests for next winter, let us know by emailing, talking to a committee member or commenting below. We need to hear from you no later than January 24th.

10 minute rule

CalMac have for many years asked that foot passengers present themselves for boarding no less than 10 minutes before departure. This is something we have become used to, but is becoming a big barrier to delivering public transport connections, particularly when the Loch Frisa is operating on her own.

In past years, it was always agreed (and indeed enforced by Transport Scotland) that any connection between ferry and train in Oban required a minimum of 15 minutes. This is just about enough time to allow for the 10-minute rule and to give five minutes to walk between the station and the ferry terminal.

With the Loch Frisa in operation on her own, it is now impossible to maintain a 15 minute minimum on all connections. In the timetable below there are connections of 12, 11 and even 9 minutes.

We have heard of many instances where train passengers have gone straight from station to pier, only to be denied boarding because they have arrived less than 10 minutes before departure. Sometimes they have witnessed the ferry departing early.

The two sailings with the tightest connection are the last services on Friday and Saturday. With a 9 minute published connection time, these are impossible connections to make, so long as CalMac enforce the 10 minute rule. CalMac have suggested that the ‘solution’ is to remove those connections from the published timetable. Instead, we have posed other questions –

  • Is the 10 minute rule necessary? CalMac say that time is needed to compile passenger manifests. They are required by law to inform the shore office how many passengers are onboard. But does that take a full ten minutes?
    We have examined sailing records, and have found that this year, 60% of sailings left early, and of those, on average they leave 4 minutes early. More than 1/4 of all sailings departed 5 minutes early or more. It is far more common for a sailing to leave early than it is to leave on time.
    If early departure is so commonplace, then we think it is reasonable to question what purpose the 10 minute rule serves.
  • Why are ferries leaving early and why is the 10 minute rule being so strictly applied, on those sailings where it is known there is a very short connection? It should not be difficult to allow a train passenger to embark if they arrive before departure time – particularly if that is a result of a published connection that is infeasible, or a train running late. For those last Friday and Saturday sailings with 9 minute connections, it would not be unreasonable to expect the ferry to wait a few minutes to prevent train passengers being marooned in Oban for the night.

If you have examples where you have been caught out by the 10 minute rule, or you have missed a public transport connection because of it, please let us know.

Advanced Standby

CalMac will soon be replacing their ‘waitlist’ system with a new process called ‘Advanced Standby’. Currently, if you are unable to get a place on the ferry you can request to be put on the waiting list, and should a space become available as a result of another passenger cancelling or amending their ticket, you will be given the opportunity to travel.

The new system is detailed in the impact assessment document below. In the future, only particular types of traveller will be able to access Advanced Standby, and in principle it appears to be an improvement over the old system. We did suggest some changes to the qualification criteria for the new system, but these were not picked up due to some communication errors on both sides. There is opportunity to review it in six months.

To qualify for a place on Advanced standby you must be going to a medical appointment; attending a funeral; carrying live fish or be making other other urgent/lifeline travel (see the full list in the doc below).

However, one additional category was added apparently as a result of consultation that seems inappropriate: Hospitality – customers with confirmed accommodation bookings on the island (proof must be given). This will in effect mean that a holiday-maker who books accommodation without also getting a ferry reservation could be carried in preference to an islander trying to travel for any ‘non-urgent’ issue. In practice this is unlikely to occur very often, but it is completely contrary to what a ‘lifeline’ service should be doing, and also completely contrary to the objectives of the ‘Samso System’ of islander prioritisation we have been advocating for.

Read the full details below:

Samso System

The Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth gave us an undertaking in September that Transport Scotland would be tasked with trialling an islander-prioritisation system on the Craignure-Oban service next summer.

So far, we have seen no concrete action to get this trial underway, although Transport Scotland have told us that staff have been allocated to it. We will keep pushing to get the trial introduced, and for the system to be well designed and fully supported by CalMac. At the moment however, much attention seems to be going on the introduction of the new E-booking ticketing system and it remains to be seen if a trial will happen in 2023.

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