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Is it time to have west coast ferries that hop rather than sail long distances?

CalMac ferries are a vital mode of transport for many island communities
CalMac ferries are a vital mode of transport for many island communities

Calls have been made for a complete shake-up of the entire ferry network.

With the costs of running the ageing fleet increasing, a west coast community council chairman believes it is time to look at the routes to improve the situation for islanders and minimise repeated disruptions.

Former Scotland rugby captain Rob Wainwright, who heads up Coll Community Council, said that while the island can benefit from regular sailings it might be more practical – in the long term – to think differently.

Sailings ‘more easily disrupted’

Rob Wainwright.

He said: “There is no doubt that the numbers of sailings to the islands are more easily disrupted than they once were. The cost of getting to and from the mainland while it may be cheaper for private motorists and passengers, that is not the case for commercial vehicles who bring our supplies.

“We have a ferry network that comes from Oban, via Tiree, and it comes every day in the summer.

“While that makes sense and it serves us well when it runs, there might be another way to serve the islands that means we would have a more frequent service that worked between the islands.

Shorter ferry routes equals less pollution

The Isle of Coll

“For instance, could there be a route that was between Tiree and Tobermory, and then Tiree to Coll? Could that route then link with other islands. Could there be a route between Coll and the Western Isles?

“At the moment everything is serviced around, in our case, Oban – but would it make more sense to have shorter routes?

“Does it make sense to have the ferry steam all the way up the Sound of Mull to Tiree and Coll each day when a small ferry and a shorter route might be better both environmentally and practically?

“It is something that should be looked at, because what we have at the moment is not working the best way it possibly could for islanders.”

Mr Wainwright said that if the islands were opened up by shorter ferry crossings there would be much more of an opportunity for other services to be shared.

One such example would be schools. Tiree has a high school, as does Tobermory, but island children from the south of Mull, Iona and from Coll go to Oban and stay in a hostel all week for their high school education. He suggests another might be healthcare and for food shopping.

The Scottish Government said it was open to the idea

A Scottish Government spokesman said:  “We are open to exploring options for changes to services which address identified transport connectivity needs.

“The Islands Connectivity Plan will replace the current Ferries Plan from January 2023, and will have regard to aviation, ferries and fixed links, and onward and connecting travel.

“Work on the Islands Connectivity Plan will include a refreshed series of community needs assessments.

He added: “We have announced investment of £580m in ports and vessels to support and improve Scotland’s ferry services over the next five years, as part of our wider Infrastructure Investment Plan.”


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