Ferry operator argues that vehicle capacity issues on its vessels mean that it is in favour of tourists being encouraged to use connecting buses instead


Caledonian MacBrayne operates ferry links between the mainland of Scotland and 22 of the major islands


Ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne has argued that fewer tourists should take cars on its vessels, saying that modal shift to public transport promises “huge benefits” for island economies. However, its hope that a single app will provide seamless ticketing and information across transport modes in Scotland still appears to be far from fruition.

Simon Hulme, CalMac’s information technology director, told a committee of MSPs: “We hear from islander customers, and in representations from businesses and MSPs from the islands, that many of the challenges in relation to tourism result from the fact that vehicle traffic on our ferries is expanding – which can be a problem because it can make it difficult for islanders to go about their business.

“On modal shift, if we can encourage leisure travellers and tourists not to take their cars to the islands and enable them to use the local bus services, that would bring huge benefits. It would benefit first the bus services; secondly the leisure travellers, because they would have a choice; and thirdly the islanders, because it would free up capacity on the ferries to move their freight and thereby meet their business needs.

“As much as anything, we would want to provide information to our customers to let them know that they can take the train from Glasgow to Oban, go from Oban out to the islands and then use the bus service once they get there – and we would want to give them that information while they are there.

“Going beyond a smartcard, we envisage a mobile and app-enabled system that not only sells tickets for all the different modes but provides timetabling and logistics information. That is what a truly integrated solution would start to look like.”

That would only be possible if all operators adopted the same standards and technological approaches, he said. “CalMac has some way to go in terms of our technology, but that is the direction in which we want to go. That is our vision. There would be massive wins for business, the environment, leisure travellers and the islanders.”

The hurdles to overcome before Scotland has a multi-modal smart ticketing system are illustrated by the low take-up of ScotRail’s smartcard. From April 1 to September 15, only 8% of ScotRail journeys were undertaken on smart media, indicating that the operator will be penalised for missing its target of at least 60% of journeys to utilise ITSO-certified smart media by April 1, 2019. Journeys using mobile tickets will count towards that target, but ScotRail’s m-ticket is still in trial mode and not available Apple devices.

George Mair, CPT’s director for Scotland, told the MSPs that bus operators had concentrated on making existing tickets available through contactless technology, which offered “so many options for the future”.

Speaking to Passenger Transport, former Brighton & Hove bus boss and transport commentator Roger French welcomed CalMac’s comments about tourists’ cars. He said narrow island roads were unsuited to the influx of additional vehicles.

It’s perfectly possible to enjoy being a tourist on the islands with public transport. From a bus window, you can savour the beautiful scenery. You don’t see a thing from the car

French continued: “It’s perfectly possible to enjoy being a tourist on the islands with public transport. From a bus window, you can savour the beautiful scenery. You don’t see a thing from the car.”

Visitors could travel between the northern and southern ends of the Outer Hebrides in a single day, using five buses and two ferries. “They all link up, but you have to watch the tide times and you can’t get a through fare including the ferries.”

He said foot passengers on CalMac ferries were sometimes accorded lower priority than car occupants, with vehicles embarking or disembarking first. That appeared to be at the crew’s discretion.

He said there were good examples of publicity emphasising connections between trains and ferries but there was room for improvement. An app would simplify journey planning, particularly where departure times varied with the tides.

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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