Another ‘use it or lose it’ ultimatum has been issued for the Kilcreggan to Gourock ferry service – this time for the Sunday service.
Inverclyde councillor David Wilson, an SPT board member, was quoted in the Greenock Telegraph saying the subsidy for the summer service was £15 per head.
“We need to see what happens over the summer,” he said.
“We hope the numbers will pick up quite considerably, otherwise this would not be an appropriate use of public funds.
“The service was going to be cancelled this year, but I lobbied for it to continue and SPT agreed to give it another go this summer. However, I will have trouble fighting for it to run again next year if more people don’t use it.”
But ferry user group member Harry Cathcart said the timetable was largely to blame, since the the first ferry leaves Kilcreggan at 12.40 with the last return time being 16.55 ‘which means that a family day out has to be telescoped into four hours’.
Anyone wishing to visit the Rosneath Peninsula would have a 13.05 first departure time from Gourock with the return at 17.07, he added.
“One does not need to be overly bright to realise that in the current economic climate spending money on fares for this convoluted service does not make sense.
“It would surely have been much more logical to test a much more expansive service before writing it off for lack of usage.
“The cost of the current service from the beginning of April to the end of October is given as £16,000 which I am sure matches or is less than some subsidised bus routes within the SPT network.”
So with yet another question mark hanging over this service – albeit just for the Sunday sailings, which have a contract for this year only unlike the Monday-Saturdays service – are there any potential solutions?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Better publicity – any publicity at all would help, in fact. The timetable for this year’s Sunday service didn’t appear until the last working day before the first sailing. When SPT agreed to run the Sunday sailings the minutes from a meeting in March stated: “Argyll and Bute Council and Visit Scotland will be invited to assist in the essential task of promoting the service to encourage greater uptake to ensure the longer-term sustainability of a Sunday service.” There hasn’t been much sign of that.
- Timetables that take account of when people want to travel. Mr Cathcart is quite right about Sundays, but for weekday commuters it’s also far from ideal. The number of daily sailings was quietly cut last year so inevitably there are fewer options for commuters travelling to or from Glasgow, or students at James Watt College, while for many years the most frequent wish of passengers returning to Kilcreggan has been for a later sailing, perhaps leaving Gourock at 7pm so catching the last connecting train from Glasgow isn’t quite such a fraught experience. It must be possible, since a boat from Helensburgh arrived at that time until that service was axed last year.
- Joined-up ticketing. There are now two different operators – Clyde Marine on Sundays and Clydelink for the rest of the week – and ten-journey tickets bought from one company are not valid with the other. In these days of smart tickets and Oyster cards, is there really no solution to this?
- Better signage. Just have a look at the pier areas in Kilcreggan or Gourock pier – it’s dreadful.
- Adequate boats. Or boat, to be precise, as it’s pretty clear that there is no longer a back-up for Clydelink’s Island Princess, which is just too small for these seas and the number of passengers, especially those travelling to work at Coulport who have to sit or stand outside whatever the weather as there isn’t enough covered seating. The contrast with the Seabus, which is now running on Sundays, is stark.
- Talks.SPT, which has made no bones about not wanting to run the only ferry service it still subsidies, should start a dialogue with Transport Scotland, which has said it is happy to talk about taking over the service. There are those who fear it could be a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire, since the Argyll Ferries service to Dunoon doesn’t have its troubles to seek, but at least Keith Brown’s department appear willing.
It looks simple, doesn’t it? Of course there will be obstacles to all of these things, but if even one or two of them could be tried it would be progress – and better than ultimatums from Cllr Wilson, who lost a lot of credibility last year by seeming to side with beleaguered operators Clydelink rather than the public who pay for SPT.