Book ferry early, as Islanders lose out to tourist demand for travel

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A Lewis crofter has expressed her dismay at being forced to miss a poultry auction this weekend due to being denied vehicle space on either the Stornoway to Ullapool or the Tarbert to Uig ferry tomorrow morning (Friday).

Jayne Macarthur had intended on attending a poultry auction in Thainstone in Aberdeenshire to buy new birds to add to her rare breed flock and taking her car is essential to transport the birds home.

But she says she is unable to book and advised that both ferries tomorrow morning are at full capacity meaning she will have to miss out on the auction.

“I think something needs to be done to prioritise locals in some way,” said Jayne.

“Maybe keeping back a certain number of ‘on the day’ spaces, capping the number of motor homes permitted on each crossing, or ideally getting a second vessel - even just from April to October.

“I’m not sure I agree with the motor home tax that was mentioned last year, but it concerns me that locals are losing out.

“Also how much are motor homes adding to the local economy? Is it that much? Once they are here are they spending? I don’t think so. Not that much anyway.”

Jayne, who has a croft in Back, sells both her rare birds after breeding and also eggs and she will be selling what she raises over the summer at the Dingwall auction in November.

A CalMac spokesperson confirmed they had spoken with Jayne and had offered alternative dates of travel with availability the following day while urging all passengers to book as far in advance as possible for peak sailings now the summer timetable has begun.

Capacity issues on the Stornoway to Ullapool ferry has been an ongoing issue over busy summer periods with the route being served by the £42 million MV Loch Seaforth, which replaced the MV Isle of Lewis in 2015.

A Transport Sscotland spokesperson highlighted the significant investment made in ferry services while confirming public meetings later this month will share results to appraise further improvements.

“Over £1.4 billion has been invested in ferry services across the Clyde and Hebrides since 2007, including the MV Loch Seaforth and harbour upgrades at Stornoway and Ullapool,” said the spokesperson.

“We are continuing to invest in new vessels and ferry infrastructure to renew the fleet.

“Work to appraise further improvements to the ferry services to the Western Isles, including the important Ullapool to Stornoway route, is nearing completion and the results will be shared at a series of public meetings in May.

“Increased vehicle carryings reflect the success of RET fares and the welcome growth of island tourism, but also mean that there are increasing occasions where popular sailings are fully booked for people wanting to travel with a vehicle.

“Following the completion of the current appraisal study, we will be engaging with Outer Hebrides’ stakeholders on the next steps.”

DIFFICULT TO PLAN SO FAR IN ADVANCE

Another Lewis resident, who asked not be named, also contacted the Gazette, regarding capacity issues and the ongoing difficulties in working so far in advance during busiser months.

“I have to travel most weekends to Glasgow with one of my children who competes in sports away on the mainland and I have been running into lots of issues,” they said.

“I would expect to be able to book the week before if there is something we have to go for, but quite often when you try to do that there are issues getting a space.

“Recently we were unable to return on the Lewis ferry and instead had to return via Skye which added a signifiacnt amount of travelling onto our journey.

“It is difficult to plan so many weeks in advance and book journeys that way, it’s not easy.”

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan agrees capacity on ferries are a growing concern but he insists the Scottish Government are committed to finding a solution.

He said: “Ferries in the Western Isles now have to cope with nearly 200,000 additional passengers a year, compared to a decade ago.

“Many routes now operate at capacity for half the year round.

“While this growth in traffic has undoubtedly been a good thing for the island economy, situations like this illustrate the impact that ferry capacity constraints can have on day-to-day island life.

“The Scottish Government has shown its commitment in funding ferry services far beyond what previous Governments have provided. But clearly more needs to be done to address real problems with capacity, and I continue to make that point to both Calmac and the Government.”

Read more about how you can give your views to Transport Scotland on Western Isles ferries: HERE