Staff and passengers both feeling the pressure.

We have another week with no MV Isle of Mull, even without the additional sailings that she operated last week whilst passing by to and from Lochboisdale. The Barra service is off, to enable repairs to Castlebay linkspan. So there is additional displaced traffic on the Lochboisdale sailings that mean the IOM hasn’t got the capacity to spare for Mull this week.

Isle of Mull should return by Saturday 27th

The Isle of Lewis is spending time in Stornoway having scheduled repairs, so there are no vessels available to help out Loch Frisa and Coruisk. The 12-car Loch Linnhe has been available, but due to her restricted MCA plying limits, she is unable to work between Oban and Craignure. She has been stationed in Lochaline but with the Corran ferry off, there has been no traffic for her to carry. We have asked CalMac to request an emergency extension to her plying limits from the MCA. That could enable her to work between Mull and Oban; but the likelihood that would be possible in the next few days is slim. In any case, meantime she has had to cover for a broken-down Loch Striven and operate to Lismore.

For the Isle of Mull to return to Craignure, the Hebrides (currently in dry-dock in Liverpool) needs to return to service; that in turn will release the Clansman to serve Coll and Tiree; and the LOTI to resume operations between Mallaig and Lochboisdale. So long as the Hebrides is not delayed (fingers crossed), most of the network will have something resembling normality at that point. (even if some of the boats are unfamiliar or have one more hull than usual). One last major vessel still awaits annual service – the Finlaggan. Finally it is hoped that the Hebridean Isles will soon be fixed and available to cover for her absence.

IT Woes

And whilst the ferry shuffling continues, we’ve all been getting used to the new ticketing system – staff as well as passengers. The pressure on CalMac’s frontline staff as they have struggled with the new software at the same time as having such limited ferry capacity has been intolerable. All the port staff have done a fantastic job in some really stressful circumstances – thank you to all of them, both on the islands and mainland.

Some of the major bugs have been resolved, and staff are becoming more familiar with the new systems. But the number and significance of some of the faults has been pretty shocking. We have reported more than 30 different bugs and issues, many of which are minor, but others less so. Here are some of the most notable –

  • Only five sailings listed on services that offer many more per day (now fixed)
  • Repeated difficulty with the account registration process, and account holders being unable to log in
  • Child tickets can’t be bought without an accompanying adult (not much good for children heading to/from school)
  • Some routes had no sailings listed at all (now fixed)
  • Foot passenger tickets printed with 30 minute check-in, when in fact it’s only 10
  • System unusable on iPhones (now largely resolved)
  • Ticket selection is confusing – it is possible to buy a trailer or bike rack ticket without a car for example
  • A port is listed that doesn’t exist on the network

There are many other usability and functional problems, and these are just those we are aware of in the ‘public facing’ part of the system. Some vessels on the network have been unable to sell tickets simply because they have an inadequate internet connection.

These early problems will be fixed however, and ultimately we should have a much better system. The ease with which bookings can be amended is a great improvement, as is the ability to buy concession tickets online. Over time additional functionality will be added – like the ability to buy commercial tickets online.


One of the the key objectives of the system is to reduce un-used deckspace, thanks to more accurate vehicle ticketing. That will need a little more work …. This week it seems the system has been significantly over-selling on our route. ie selling tickets for more vehicles than can fit on the ferry. Passengers who previously had confirmed booked spaces now find themselves on a wait list. Others have had their bookings unilaterally cancelled by CalMac – several teams visiting the Rugby Sevens were a victim of that.

As a consequence turn-up-and-go service on Craignure-Oban has been suspended (there is no ‘unbooked’ queue). And last night CalMac have issued a notice that freight and island residents will be prioritised. Quite how that will operate is unclear.
[At the foot of this post is the full text of the latest update on E-booking from CalMac]

Medical Priority

Some passengers have been told that the Urgent Medical Appointment Protocol is not available. This is incorrect. We have been able to intervene in a few cases where islanders could not get to a mainland hospital appointment. They had been incorrectly advised by CalMac’s call centre there is nothing they could do. Please be assured that if you have a medical appointment on the mainland, CalMac should either a) ensure you have a car space, or b) re-emburse you for a taxi for the mainland portion of your journey.

If you have any difficulty accessing the Urgent Medical Appointment Protocol , please email us, and we will do our best to get you senior management attention.

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 coming this summer. We’d like to thank the many people who have donated already and helped us to reach our target. If you can add to the funds we’d really appreciate it. Thankyou!  Follow this link to make a donation.

Full text of CalMac’s E-booking update:

We launched our new booking and ticketing platform on Wednesday 17 May. We are sorry for the inconvenience some of our customers have experienced in recent days. 

As we advised in our update on Thursday 18 May, as you would expect with a system change of this scale, we experienced several issues on day one. In many cases these were peripheral to the core system but nevertheless disruptive for customers and increased pressure on our staff. We will solve all these issues. The core system is working, we are processing bookings, and all services are running. 

There were payment issues on nine of our routes initially which were resolved on the first day. Another issue has subsequently arisen which may be affecting payments on several routes, which is being addressed.  

Our supplier is working on several issues, the principal of which relates to customer accounts. A small proportion of migrated customer accounts have been affected where the account may not be visible to the customer via the Internet; our supplier is working to find a solution for this issue, and we are working with them to ensure it can be introduced as rapidly as possible this week.   

Customers’ receipt of emails has been delayed in some cases by email services (such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft) automatically deferring delivery because of a volume of emails from a new source. After some delays, 97% of emails relating to bookings migrated in from our previous Compass platform or sent following a new booking since launch have now been delivered. Account-related emails (asking the customer to validate their email address when creating an account) are delivering at a 99% success rate.   

We are also working through network disruption and reduced capacity on some sailings, which we chose to manage in the new system and is conflating some of the pressures. We are offering booked customers new sailings where possible, or refunds. Several bookings we migrated did not have account or email information which is slowing this process. 

There have been issues in some ports and vessels with passenger count in relation to tickets being scanned, with numbers not corresponding to the number of people on board. We are working with our supplier to resolve this. 

There is a specific issue in relation to Islay bookings which shows as two separate routes. Customers can make a return booking to different ports using the “multi-Island” feature, but we will make this clearer in the system with appropriate guidance for customers. 

We appreciate the patience being shown by our customers and we have asked customers through social media to allow us some time to enable them to connect with their accounts online where this is a problem, if their requirements are not time critical. 

Please be assured that CalMac’s senior management team is meeting twice daily to oversee this work and our teams continue to work around the clock, along with our suppliers.  

Our Port teams have been working extremely hard over the last week, and resolving these issues is gradually relieving the pressure at the ports.  

We are confident that these issues will be resolved, and over time the advantages of the new system will then become more obvious both to our customers and our staff. We will continue to communicate updates through our usual channels.

4 thoughts on “Staff and passengers both feeling the pressure.

  1. Thanks for the updates. Fingers crossed that all will be resolved soon.

  2. Would Calmac confirm whether or not this new system was created in-house or whether it was bought in (and from whom!)?
    Whichever, it is gross corporate irresponsibility to go live with a system as unproven as this one has been seen to be.

    1. The system was supplied by Italian company Edea. The website that we see is just one aspect – all the terminals and back office database etc is included too. Initial cost is something like £10 million.

      1. Edea’s website shows some heavy-duty clients so the product itself should be tried and tested.

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