With this week’s announcement that state ferry company CalMac has delayed its usual fare rise from April until September, it has emerged that Cowal company Western Ferries is waiting for contact from Transport Scotland to discuss freezing its fares.
The CalMac move, the Scottish Government says, is designed to help people and businesses recover from recent disruptions to services.
But with Western Ferries being the only vehicle carrying service between Cowal and Inverclyde, deemed by Transport Scotland during the pandemic as a ‘lifeline’ service, might Cowal drivers and passengers be disadvantaged by the CalMac fares freeze if funding to ensure a Western fare freeze is not made available?
Argyll and Bute MSP Jenni Minto discussed this with Western’s MD Gordon Ross earlier in the week.
She told this newspaper: “Following a conversation with Gordon Ross earlier this week I have written to the ferries division of Transport Scotland to ask if such funding could be made available.”
Mr Ross said: “Western Ferries would be keen to discuss any such opportunity with Transport Scotland to thereby ensure that Cowal is not unfairly excluded from a government strategy which sets out to support neighbouring rural communities and local businesses.”
Announcing the CalMac fares freeze, Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth said: “Ministers are mindful of the disruption on the ferry network in recent times – particularly in relation to the Clyde and Hebrides network.
“This fares freeze is the right thing for our island communities and I hope it will go some way to encouraging tourism this summer as island businesses continue to recover from the pandemic.”
CalMac had been unable to publish its summer timetable until fares had been set by ministers.
Chief executive Robbie Drummond said: “We welcome this decision, which will be good news for island communities.
“Now that we have the decision on the 2023 fares from the transport minister, we will be able to complete the work required on our systems to enable us to open bookings.
“As previously announced, we will open bookings as soon as possible and certainly before the end of January. The opening date for bookings will be advertised very shortly.”
The Ferries Community Board also welcomed the announcement.
A spokesperson said: “The case for this had been made directly to the Minister at our last meeting. We are particularly pleased that it is recognised that there have been ongoing financial and social costs to Islanders and Island businesses due to regular failures to our lifeline services.”