Reduced Mull ferry timetable '˜will force business away'

A winter of discontent is looming on Mull amid fears that the new ferry timetable is so restrictive it will force families and businesses to move away.

Passengers disembark from Caledonian MacBrayne's Isle of Mull ferry in Oban. Picture: Donald Macleod
Passengers disembark from Caledonian MacBrayne's Isle of Mull ferry in Oban. Picture: Donald Macleod

In summer Mull is a modern commuter island, bustling with tourists, as two ferries ply the waters from early morning to evening for the 45-minute crossing to and from Oban.

But when the winter timetable starts a week today (October 22) the 2,700 residents who rely on the ferry as a year round service will see it reduced to as few as four sailings to Oban a day.

Billy McClymont, chairman of Mull Community Council, said: “Not to be able to get a ferry before 9am to Oban and to have to be back in the queue with your car at 3:30pm for the 4pm sailing – it’s pre-historic.

“A lot of people have to go to Glasgow for health appointments and they have to stay away because they can’t get a ferry back, there’s the cost element and the problem of who is going to look after the kids.”

There is anger that, after money was poured into the introduction of RET (Road Equivalent Tariff), which has given tourists cheaper ferry travel, a request for four extra sailings a week on this lifeline winter service for islanders was rejected as unviable by Transport Scotland.

Elizabeth Ferguson, chair of the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee, said: “When you think about the amount of subsidies going in to RET, we can’t find £600,000, which we believe is the cost of the four extra sailings which would make it possible to spend the full working day on the mainland.”

Mrs Ferguson added: “People are getting quite desperate to get an early and late boat for the winter.

“People are thinking, why can’t we have this in winter? We do feel short-changed.”

Andy Knight, managing director of TSL Contractors, which with 125 staff is one of Mull’s biggest employers, said they may be forced to move the head office.

TSL has three mainland offices and Mr Knight, 54, said: “More and more it is becoming apparent that living and working on Mull in this manner is unsustainable.”

A CalMac spokesman said: “Several options were identified to carry out more sailings over the winter from Oban to Mull.”

The spokesman added: “Unfortunately due to the condition of the infrastructure at Craignure it is not possible for a vessel to berth there overnight, meaning the first sailing of the day has to start in Oban, which would have significant cost implications.”