Thank you for sending on your open letter to me regarding the current situation with the restricted ferry service to Arran.
I absolutely appreciate how difficult this situation is for islanders and island businesses as we try to navigate the biggest health issue in more than a century and weigh up the wishes of a broad spectrum of voices on Arran, many of whom are concerned about the re-opening of tourism and full ferries back to the island.
It is important that we work together on these issues and try to avoid overly emotive language in our correspondence with each other if our relationship is to be a positive one. We all want a positive outcome for the island in terms of health and economy.
As you will be aware, we have been working to guidelines set by Scottish Ministers on issues like physical distancing and eligibility to travel and will continue to do so as the country exits Covid.
We have been engaging with all our communities and community bodies on behalf of Transport Scotland and Ministers over the past three weeks, and the issues you raise have been discussed extensively with the Arran Ferry Committee and the Arran Economic Group.
In terms of capacity, it is worthy to note that during the past week when we have been running an essential and restricted timetable Islanders have had full access to ferry services: in the last seven days to 30 June we have run at 45% of available capacity on Ardrossan-Brodick, and only four sailings were over 70%. Sailings and capacity will increase from today (1 July) with the launch of our first interim timetable, with a further interim timetable on 15 July which will see the introduction of a second vessel on Ardrossan-Brodick and the service from Claonaig to Lochranza.
The 2m physical distancing rule introduced by Scottish Ministers designed to keep our staff and passengers safe is being reviewed on 2 July. Should the guidance on physical distancing change, this will more than double our capacity and we will be able to respond quickly.
We will also shortly announce the availability of outside only tickets for Ardrossan to Brodick in the which will more than double passenger capacity. Along with the 20% reserved capacity for turn-up and go, this will provide significant capacity available for Islanders to access ferry travel on a short-term basis if they find themselves unable to book ahead.
The booking window of two weeks is a short-term measure designed to balance the needs to Islanders to access ferry travel and the needs of the tourism sector. This is a difficult balance. The window will be reviewed, and it is anticipated that as restrictions are lifted the booking window will be extended to reflect this which will provide more certainty for all customers.
After opening our booking systems yesterday, at 5pm while some sailings were busy, bookings for Ardrossan-Brodick across all sailings for the next 14 days is only at 10% of capacity. We expect this to increase over the next few days and we would encourage Islanders to book their travel to ensure appointments can be met. If customers do not have access to broadband, they will be able to make reservations at the port or through the contact centre as normal.
I hope this answers your questions and assures you that CalMac is doing everything it can to provide a safe and effective service to Arran in these difficult times.
Managing Director, CalMac Ferries Ltd
Executive Director, David MacBrayne Ltd
The current state of our lifeline ferry service shows it is not fit for purpose in terms of reliability, resilience and infrastructure. The Arran Ferry Action Group is a new and fully representative lobbying group, set up to represent Arran interests in demanding service improvements and accountability in future investment decisions.