Plans for a car ban on a lifeline island ferry service will have a devastating impact on businesses, commuters, tourists and parents, it has been claimed.
Ferry operator CalMac has said they are looking at removing vehicles for up to eight weeks on the Lochaline-Mull route.
It could take up to eight weeks for improvement works at the island slipway and pier later this year.
Angry residents on Mull and Lochaline, near Morvern on the mainland, claim this would mean a detour of more than 80 miles would affect care workers, hospital staff, school pupils and businesses if they are re-routed from Lochaline via the Corran Ferry to Oban, then Criagnure on Mull.
Businessman Joe Reade, from Mull’s The Island Bakery, which supplies major retailers in the UK, said: “We use the Lochaline to Fishnish ferry all the time because it is far more commercially viable for us as a business.”
The diversion would also have financial implications as commercial rates for the Oban to Craignure sailing is £240.72, while the Lochaline-Fishnish route is £140.76 per sailing.
Mr Reade added: “Changing the route is very, very expensive for us as a business – other businesses will be in the same position.
“We understand that the upgrade of the slip and pier in Lochaline is unavoidable – but there are a number of questions that have not been answered by CalMac about the possibility of transferring our freight through Oban – but still keeping the same rates.”
Mr Reade claimed there is a problem about the reliability of the sailings from Criagnure to Oban, adding: “There is no two ways about it, the reliability on the sailings from Fishnish to Lochaline means it is much more likely to travel – when the larger sailing to Oban is off.
“As a business that reliability is fundamentally important.”
One parent of a child with additional needs told the Press and Journal: “With only three or four sailings a day for such a long period of time, I want to know that someone will provide the transport for me, or my child in an emergency.”
Another woman who works as a carer on Mull, but lives in Lochaline, said: “It could mean that for a shift starting at 9am in the morning, I have to go to work at 5pm the evening before.
“The island is already short of carers, and I don’t want to cause a mad panic – but unless we are put up in a hotel, or given free access to a car I have huge concerns I can not afford to do my job.”
Elizabeth Ferguson, chairwoman of Mull and Iona Ferry Users Group, said anyone with problems with the proposed passenger-only route should contact them.
Mrs Ferguson said: “There has already been a meeting in Lochaline, and we hope to have one on Mull in the next two weeks.
“We hope to find out what is happening and how it can be resolved. The very real problem is that work needs to be done to the pier and slipway in Lochaline – and it may be a case of short term pain for long-term gain.
“But at the same time I have every sympathy for people who are going to be effected by this over the longer period of time and I would encourage them to make their feelings known to us, or through CalMac.”
A spokesman for CalMac said: “We are still looking at options for service continuation.
“It is likely that it will be passenger only for the period of improvement works.”