A heated meeting heard a litany of complaints about Kilcreggan’s ferry service – culminating in news that ticket prices are set to rise.
Members of the user group set up to monitor the link with Gourock updated Cove and Kilcreggan Community Council and members of the public on Tuesday night.
Councillor Robert MacIntyre, Argyll and Bute’s representative on SPT, was asked to raise a series of issues at a meeting on Friday – and there were gasps when he revealed that ticket prices are expected to rise.
Friday’s meeting of SPT’s Partnership will be asked to approve price rises for all the authority’s subsidised bus routes and its one ferry.
Single tickets will rise from £2.35 to £2.50, returns from £4.60 to £4.80, and a ten-journey from £15.75 to £16.50, with children’s ticket prices also increasing.
A report by chief executive Gordon Maclennan and assistant chief executive Eric Stewart says the last increase was 18 months ago, since when there have been ‘significant fuel increases’ and reductions in bus service operator grants and concessionary travel payments to bus operators – it is not clear if these factors apply to the ferry service, but similar increases would be imposed.
At the community council meeting it was revealed that a crew member on the Island Princess, run by Clydelink, was actually an SPT employee.
Kerr Gardiner of the ferry users group said there had been 32 days of disrupted service since the new operators took over on April 1, despite there having been very few days with strong wind this summer.
“The bottom line is that if this service disappeared tomorrow SPT would be more than happy,” he said.
“An FOI request revealed that an SPT member of staff has been on that boat for the last three months – in effect there has been a hidden subsidy there, and that to me is appalling.”
He said claims that the worker, who has been paid by SPT throughout this period, was acting as an observer were not credible: “You cannot be an observer if you are the skipper of the boat.”
Earlier in the meeting Councillor George Freeman confirmed that the pier would continue to be staffed until the end of October, adding that he had taken the issue to Audit Scotland, while the new requirement for the Island Princess to use four mooring ropes rather than two would soon apply to other ferries.
“The MCA have got to the stage where they are fairly seriously concerned about some of the complaints that have been made about them so they have insisted on four ropes,” he said.
“My understanding is that the four ropes ruling is going to be applied across the Clyde and that will create problems elsewhere.”
But one ferry passenger said the MCA was missing the point, while there were real problems with the latest timetable.
“It will create a massive inconvenience,” he said.
“The sailing that the college students normally go for is the 8.20 – and they will be going back to college next week,
“The mooring of the boat is not the issue. The big problem with the boat is it is the wrong kind of boat. The old Kenilworth or the Seabus – at least they had a hull.
“It is when we are out in the water that we are worried. The MCA have reacted in order to cover themselves.
“All we are asking for is to get the commuter sailings sorted out again, to a timetable that has operated for decades.”
And Harry Cathcart added that a local woman who worked in Inverclyde faced so many problems because of the new timetable that she feared she might have to give up her job.
“Our iconic pier now has a cattle grid on it,” he said, referring to the barriers controversially fitted by the council last month.
“Unless we grab this issue as a community we will be an island.
“I am disappointed in Argyll and Bute Council. Is the council really forcibly going at SPT on some of the issues that have been highlighted?”
Councillor MacIntyre replied: “I get told by SPT that the MCA is responsible for all the boats.
“They tell me that the MCA have approved the boats and as far as they are concerned the boats are fit for purpose.”
And Councillor Maurice Corry defended the work of Argyll and Bute councillors of all parties, adding that he had lobbied Inverclyde Councillor David Wilson, a fellow Conservative who is an SPT board member who at the end of May said the Cailin Oir backup boat would be in service ‘in a few days’ – nearly three months later, there is still ho sign of this happening.
“I am in regular contact with David Wilson and I made it very clear to him that this is a nonsense,” he said.
“The problem is that Transport Scotland have washed their hands of it. We as councillors are doing everything we can.”
Kerr Gardiner said: “The bottom line is that this boat is not going to sail in the autumn. What are we going to do as a community? The Coulport workers will give up using it.”
Referring to the latest timetable, which has 13 sailings rather than 15 on weekdays, he said: Has the subsidy been cut, to be commensurate with the reduced service?”
Community council chairman Nick Davies said: “I think we have to be very clear about what is achievable. I am a pragmatist.”
He asked Councillor MacIntyre to raise four issues with SPT at Friday’s meeting:
- “Make them understand the levels of concern and strength of feeling in this community”
- Establish the situation with the back-up boat
- Address timetable problems – “what the community would like is to go back to the previous timetable”
- Improve signage for the Kilcreggan ferry at Gourock station