An island ferry operator is facing backlash over “seriously flawed” winter timetables published this month.
CalMac Ferries’ proposed winter timetables between Oban and the Isle of Mull’s Craignure port have raised concerns among the island community surrounding transfer times, the length of journeys as well as the impact of reduced services on schoolchildren.
The Mull and Iona Ferry Committee (MIFC) received “strong” feedback from members of the public to the draft timetables, which would see three different timetables swapped over throughout the 23-week period.
Depending on vessel availability, the route will have a two-vessel service for around 13 weeks.
There will be approximately seven weeks when the MV Loch Frisa will operate on her own, and two and a half weeks when the Isle of Mull will be the only vessel available.
While the double-ferry service would provide many advantages over previous winters, the MIFC stated that periods where just one vessel will operate would be “completely inadequate” in terms of service and capacity.
Additionally, the committee also took issue with a lack of enough notice, calling it “completely unacceptable”.
The MV Loch Frisa, which will provide one leg of the single-vessel schedule, was dubbed “incapable” of providing the service required due to its size and speed.
In a letter to CalMac, MIFC’s chair Joe Reade stated that while he welcomed increased sailing options mentioned in the proposal, the seven-week period which would see Loch Frisa operate alone was “completely unacceptable”.
He wrote that the ferry’s lack of capacity and speed would “hugely compromise” transport connections with the Isle of Iona, leaving day trips to Oban for its residents “all but useless”.
Mr Reade wrote: “Lifeline transport connections with Iona are hugely compromised, including a reduction in the useable time in Oban from nearly six hours to less than three.
“This makes a day trip to Oban all but useless for Iona and South Mull residents, hugely increasing the likelihood that a hospital or dentist appointment will require an overnight stay; making shopping trips risky and rushed and family or business visits pointlessly short.”
He also took issue with the single service’s impact on the “previously sacrosanct” midday train departure from Oban for Iona residents, as well as timings of mainland bus connections.
The impact of the timetable on schoolchildren was also highlighted, with some expected to have to rise as early as 5.15am in order to make it to school on time – which could result in increased absences.
Alongside other issues with the single-vessel service, including the impact on food delivery trucks and MV Loch Frisa’s unknown resilience under adverse weather conditions, the island communities are also concerned about potential confusion caused by the swapping of three different timetables throughout winter.
A spokesperson for CalMac said: “We are currently consulting with the Mull and Iona community with regards to the winter timetable and will consider all comments and proposals from them.
“This winter we are pleased to welcome MV Loch Frisa operating on the Oban-Craignure route, providing an island-centric service for Mull throughout the season, which has been a long-standing community aspiration.
“Our proposals mean that Mull residents will receive either the same or an improved capacity offering for the majority of the year.”
A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “CalMac are currently consulting with the Mull and Iona community with regards to the winter timetable.
“We continue to work with CalMac to increase capacity, investing in the MV Frisa and working to procure more second hand vessels, while the four new ferries we have ordered are being built.”