Samso-ish priority system moves closer

With never-ending bad ferry news at the moment, it’s great to give an update on something positive.

We held a productive meeting with Transport Scotland and CalMac today regarding the pilot of an islander prioritisation system that should be in place for later this summer. It is intended as an intermediate step toward a fully-fledged ID-based system that we hope will come later, more in line with the Samso System which gained such universal support.

The pilot scheme will operate on just the Craignure – Oban and Coll/Tiree – Oban routes and all being well, should be in place in time for July. In order to be implemented relatively quickly and to gain experience before further development, the system will be quite simple. Only 90% of car deck space will be available for sale until 72 hours before sailing time. At that point, the final 10% of tickets will be released. Whilst this will not ensure that the retained spaces will be available exclusively to islanders, it will give us a much better chance of securing a car ticket at short notice.

The 10% retention will not be widely publicised by CalMac, so that locals have the best chance of securing them. As the trial progresses, we will have the opportunity to adjust both the size of the retention and the time at which they are released. For Mull and Iona however, we think 72 hours (3 days) is a good starting point, and 10% a fair amount of space for late bookings. Coll and Tiree will be able to choose a percentage and time that best suits them.

On each Loch Frisa Sailing therefore about 3 car spaces will be retained, and on the Isle of Mull about 6. Over the course of a full day, this means 45 car spaces will be made available for late local bookings in each direction.

This system will not be a substitute for buying tickets as far ahead of time as you can. But if you need to get a car space at short notice and the sailing is shown as sold out, you’ll know that if you wait until 72 hours before sailing time, you will have a good chance of securing one.

Only an ID-based Samso-style system would come close to guaranteeing spaces for locals, but in the interim this is a great step forward. We are grateful to the people at Transport Scotland and CalMac who we have been working with on this. Together with Coll and TIree, we are delighted to be the first islands to adopt a system that goes some way to levelling the playing-field for islanders and visitors when competing for scarce car deck space. We’ll let you know when it is finally confirmed, and if you have any questions / suggestions in the meantime, let us know.

Advance Standby

CalMac are introducing a new procedure for handling the vehicle waiting list from April 25th (at the same time as the new ticketing system). Only ‘urgent’ travellers will be able to access the new ‘Advance Standby’ list. In principle it is a good development that will help to ensure essential travel when demand is high. It will complement the prioritisation pilot, by making any cancelled tickets available to those on the standby list.

There is one contentious flaw in the system however – among the qualifying passenger types (together with livestock, emergency vehicles and food deliveries etc) are “customers with confirmed accommodation bookings on the island”. This effectively means that tourist travellers may be able to travel ahead of any islander who simply needs to get home. We have protested the inclusion of tourist travellers in the eligibility list, and hope that at the six-month review there will be an opportunity to amend it. We know we are not the only island reps to question it, although tourists were apparently added to the list as a result of community comments from elsewhere in the network.

At least on Mull, Iona, Coll and Tiree we should have the prioritisation pilot in action so that the need for islanders to use Advance Standby will be reduced.

To read all about the new system, see here.

Can you help to fund our work?

We have to hold our begging bowl out to the community, to help fund our unavoidable costs such as meeting room hire, minute taking and web hosting. All donations – no matter how small – are valued. It helps us to advocate for islanders and deliver some tangible improvements – like the prioritisation pilot. We’d like to thank the many people who have donated already and taken us a long way to our target. Follow this link to make a donation.

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