Customers and suppliers… eight points in the ferry debate

The version of reality portrayed by Councillor David Wilson in a recent letter (reproduced at the bottom of this story) to the Greenock Telegraph about the Gourock to Kilcreggan ferry service is rather different to the experience of the people who use this service.

1: He points out that fares had not increased for 18 months, but fails to mention the size of the recent increase – it is 6.38% for a single ticket. The SPT report, justifying price rises for all its buses and its sole ferry, quotes fuel price rises and reductions in bus service operator grants – which don’t apply to ferries.

2: Cllr Wilson mentions the subsidy which we ‘enjoy’, stating how much every trip costs SPT and describing the change of operator as ‘a prudent use of the public purse’. He does not mention a hidden subsidy – one of the crew members is actually an employee of SPT rather Clydelink, and is paid by us, the taxpayers. SPT seem remarkably reluctant to explain this somewhat unusual arrangement.

3: His account of the MCA requirements has been widely disputed – it would be interesting to see evidence of the way it was ‘suddenly imposed’. See the comment thread on this story.

4: SPT have my sympathies in trying to juggle ferry, bus and train timetables… but I rather thought that was meant to be their area of expertise. In order for me to reach my office in Glasgow at 9am by public transport I would need to catch a bus at 6.30, then wait for 33 minutes for the ferry to depart for Gourock, where I would wait 28 minutes for a train to leave – even though departures are at least twice per hour. That is frankly rubbish, by any standards.

5: The Island Princess was actually ‘off’ from April 30 to May 9 because of the creel line incident, not the ‘week’ which Cllr Wilson claims. That shouldn’t have been a problem because in March SPT said they had ‘evidenced’ a ‘satisfactory’ back-up boat. But it was, because they hadn’t.

6: It’s good that Cllr Wilson has been monitoring the performance of other ferry services and we hope that SPT will make the Kilcreggan to Gourock performance public in the same way that Argyll Ferries do. He does not mention the non-weather related reasons why the ferry has been cancelled, for example when it was discovered the ferry had been sailing despite the crew not being qualified.

7: Cllr Wilson describes it as ‘absurd to suggest that there has been any diminution of passenger safety’; how does he reconcile that view with the fact that an MCA inspection on April13 found 14 separate problems which had to be fixed before the Island Princess was allowed to sail again?

8: The Cailin Oir actually came into service on Sunday September 23, the day before the date stated by Cllr Wilson – but more than 100 days later than he had expected. We’ve never been told why the very clear statements about this by SPT and Cllr Wilson at the end of May were so completely misleading.

Tatty and tired: there’s little sign of promotion for the ferry service.

Cllr Wilson then goes on to say how the service had been in decline before the new contractor took over – if so, perhaps he should shoulder some responsibility as an SPT board member?

There was no promotion of the route, and no notice was taken of the timetabling requests made at a public meeting in Cove five years ago. The sign at Kilcreggan pier says more than words could about how this ferry is promoted by SPT and our councils.

The overall tone of Cllr Wilson’s letter reflects that of SPT throughout this saga; it is hard to credit that we, the public, are their customers and they should be defending our interests rather than appearing to support a supplier whatever the circumstances.

As a longserving SPT board member, Cllr Wilson will I am sure use public transport daily; the next time he is on his dry, heated bus to work I hope he remembers his customers who are sitting on the open deck of a boat in the middle of the Firth of Clyde.


  1. I can add nothing to this other than to agree wholeheartedly and despair that Dunoon and the peninsula are being so badly served.

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