Update from Mull & Iona Ferry Committee – June 6

Ferry capacity in Coronavirus future phases

On entering phase one of the government’s Coronvirus Routemap at the end of May, only very minor changes were made to the guidance surrounding ferry travel.

In future phases the rules surrounding ferry use will change more significantly, but quite how is uncertain. Phase two allows for the re-opening of more businesses, but the most significant change for ferry services is likely to come in phase three, when restrictions on accommodation providers, restaurants and so on begin to be lifted. (See the routemap for the full details). This is when some degree of tourist travel to the islands may restart, and it will be significantly easier for those who live on the islands to leave.

However, although the rules dictating who may use the ferries may relax, various factors may mean there is still a physical limit on how many people can move to and from the islands:

  1. Social distancing rules will mean that passenger capacities will be very much reduced – perhaps as low as 17% of passenger capacity, and 91% of car capacity.
  2. Cleaning regimes between sailings will mean that turnaround times are longer (so a full summer timetable will be impossible)
  3. Crew absences due to Coronavirus continue and may worsen – Test & Protect procedure currently dictates that if one crew member tests positive, the entire crew must isolate.
  4. It takes time for CalMac to recruit their seasonal staff, and this has not been done this year. So there may be a lag between a government decision that results in more demand, and CalMac staffing-up to be able to cope with it.

Each island will have a different scale of challenge in future phases. For our neighbours on Coll and Tiree for example, the Clansman may be reduced to carrying just 100 people, four or five times a week. We have more options for travel – in particular the Lochaline-Fishnish service where you may remain in your car (and capacity should be little affected). We also have the Coruisk, which although not currently being used, has special dispensation from the MCA to allow car drivers to stay in their cars between Oban and Craignure.

All of the above means that CalMac are considering how they might have to prioritise travellers. They are considering how the booking system might have to change; whether routes that currently are not bookable might have to become so; whether foot passengers might have to pre-book; and how to maximise capacity safely within social distancing rules.

On these questions of prioritisation and booking, The Mull & Iona Ferry Committee intend to run a survey to gauge community opinion.

To read in more detail about future transition and the effect of Coronavirus on CalMac, see their submission to the Rural Economy & Connectivity Committee