Islander Priority Pilot is go!

We’re delighted to be able to confirm that the Islander Priority Pilot is launching with the winter timetable. Together with Coll and Tiree, we will be trialling a ticket sales system that should give a more level playing-field for island residents.

Back in June of last year, we surveyed Mull and Iona residents on the ‘Samso System’ – an islander-priority system modelled on the the Danish island of that name. There, all island residents and eligible frequent-travellers are allocated an ID card, which gives them access to a portion of the car deck space reserved for them. It means that no-matter when they decide to travel, Samso residents are guaranteed a space for their car on their lifeline ferry service.

Urgently needed and well supported

The idea had overwhelming (95%) support from across Mull and Iona. Armed with those results, Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth agreed to trial something similar on the Craignure-Oban route. We all know how badly it’s needed, with summer congestion and early sales to tourist travellers meaning that we rarely get the sailing of our choice unless we book weeks in advance. This winter (like last) will face similar capacity short-falls, when the Loch Frisa is operating the route on her own. (see here for dates).

It isn’t a guarantee of space

A fully-fledged ID-based Samso System can’t be delivered in one go, and what is being tested is something much simpler. A portion of vehicle deck space on every sailing will be held back from sale, to be released 72 hours (three days) before sailing time. For the Craignure – Oban route, the retention is being set at 10% (The retention figure and the release time is different for Coll and TIree). So for every Loch Frisa sailing there will be around 3 car spaces retained, and for every Isle of Mull sailing, about 6. Those spaces will then be made available for sale 72 hours before sailing time.

Levelling of the playing field

The idea is that people who make a ‘last minute’ decision to travel (predominantly island residents for shopping trips, family visits etc), will have a greater chance of finding that car tickets are available. If you try to book a sailing more than 3 days before the sailing and find that it is sold out, you will be able to try again 72 hours before sailing time, and you should find that a few more tickets have become available.

Open to all

The retained tickets will be available for anyone to buy, not just island residents. So on the positive side, anyone with a last-minute need to travel will benefit. On the negative side, it means that these spaces are not exclusively for islanders. To try to overcome that, CalMac will not market or promote this system to the general public, so that it is less likely to be used by other travellers. It won’t be ‘secret’ but hopefully with a combination of local knowledge and lack of overt promotion off-island, it will do the job. So please spread the word around Mull and Iona, remembering that the objective is for islanders to travel more easily than they can now. It’s not for accommodation providers to use as a way of selling late availability, and it’s not a substitute for booking early if you can. The best way to guarantee a space will still be to buy your ticket early.

Advance Standby suspended

In order for the pilot to operate fairly, we have asked CalMac to remove Advance Standby whilst the pilot is active. If Advance Standby had remained in place, people on the standby list would have had priority over the people we are trying to help with the pilot. But because the retained spaces are available to be bought by anyone, a traveller who previously might have used Advance Standby can instead buy a ticket 72 hours before sailing time.

Key Points

  • The pilot applies to all sailings on the Craignure-Oban service (Coll & Tiree too, but in a slightly different form), starting with the winter timetable that goes on sale on October 5th.
  • It applies to vehicle tickets only, not foot passengers.
  • Only 90% of vehicle deck space will initially be available to purchase, with the other 10% retained until close to sailing time.
  • Exactly 72 hours before sailing time the retained 10% will be automatically triggered for sale, on a first-come-first-served basis for anyone to buy.
  • If you try to buy a ticket more than 72 hours ahead of the sailing and it is marked as sold out, you now have 2 options:
    • Choose a different sailing if you can, just like you do now.
    • Wait until 72 hours before sailing time, and try buying a ticket again. The closer you are to the 72 hour trigger, the more likely it is that a ticket will be available.
  • 10% of the deck space equates to approximately 3 car spaces on the Loch Frisa, and about 6 on the MV Isle of Mull.
  • This is not a replacement for booking early when you can.
  • There is no guarantee that space will still be available 12, 48 or even 71 hours before sailing time. All this does is make it more likely.
  • The closer it is to the 72 hour trigger when you try to buy your ticket, the more likely it is that you will be successful.
  • Advance Standby will not be available on the pilot routes. Otherwise, nothing else changes regarding how tickets are sold or traffic managed.
  • During periods of disruption, retained space may be allocated to vehicles displaced from other sailings, leaving fewer (or none) available at the 72 hour trigger point.

This is a Pilot, not a final system

The aim is to learn from this pilot, and use those learnings to help design a permanent system that could be rolled out across the network in future. During the pilot period (which should be at least for this winter and next summer), the percentage and timing of retained space may be adjusted as usage patterns and impacts become known. We will keep you informed if any adjustments are planned. We will survey on occasions to hear what your experiences are, to help inform any interim adjustments and the final permanent system, if one goes ahead.

Thank you CalMac, Jenny Gilruth and Transport Scotland

Last year Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth recognised the need for a system like this and promised to deliver a trial – so thank you Jenny for initiating that and to Fiona Hyslop for following through.. We have worked with Transport Scotland and CalMac to collaboratively design this system, and it’s been great for all involved to work together on something positive. So thankyou to all the officials and staff involved in delivering this. We hope it will make a big difference to us.

And finally

A reminder that a ‘feature’ of CalMac’s new ticketing system is that ALL tickets (foot passengers and vehicles) are marked online as sold out 2 hours before sailing, even if space still remains. For foot passengers, it is highly unlikely that tickets have really sold out (perhaps except for peak sailings during Frisa-only operation), so you should still be able to buy a ticket at the port. For vehicles needing to use a sailing in less than two hours, the only way to be sure if there is space or not is to ring CalMac and preferably speak to the departing port office.

Winter timetable tickets go on sale tomorrow, October 5th at 7am

3 thoughts on “Islander Priority Pilot is go!

  1. Sounds interesting.  When/if it becomes Islander only will that include mainland areas residents such as Morvern since the length of journey and potential lack of the Corran Narrows ferry, make using the Mull ferries the only real option for some people ?

    1. Hi Donna. That would certainly be the intention. Priority would be for anyone who travels regularly or lives locally, not just island residents. That’s what is done on samso, where this kind of system runs very successfully. There, anyone who uses the ferry regularly (commuters, delivery people, trades, residents) can ask for a priority pass. Once in possession of a pass, carriage is guaranteed for any sailing of your choice.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close