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After months of enforced ferry booking cancellations brought about by weather, infections and breakdowns, CalMac Ferries are planning to charge for the ones which people bring on themselves.

Details of cancellation charges for unused or altered ferry bookings are being circulated to MSPs, as CalMac looks for ways to reduce wasted space on ferries.

The ferry company notified parliamentary representatives on Friday (15 April) that it is considering changes to terms and conditions, to make sure late-notice cancellations by would-be travellers come at a cost.

In the letter circulated to MSPs, CalMac commercial director Diane Burke said: “These changes would address a significant problem: at the moment there is no incentive for customers to give us early notice of changes or cancellations to their booking.

“Some customers therefore cancel their bookings at very short notice. This results in unused deck space, thus denying other customers the opportunity to travel. 

“CalMac Ferries moves 5.7 million people around the Clyde and Hebridean islands annually, operating around 500 services per day in the summer.  With the introduction of the road equivalent tariff (RET), traffic across our network has grown by 37 percent in the last seven years.

“While good news for local economies, this does present capacity constraints, especially at peak times. We are investing resources to understand and manage demand better. We identified that standardising the way passengers’ book and pay for sailings, and consistently applying our Terms and Conditions, is key to optimising deck space.”

Ms Burke says that CalMac is about to begin a consultation on the proposed terms and conditions, which would create a tiered cancellation structure “to incentivise earliest notification of cancellations, allowing us to reallocate vehicle deck space.”

The new cancellation levy would not apply to commercial customers with block reservations, Ms Burke said.

Also excluded from the new cancellation levy will be people cancelling travel due to the death of an immediate family member, debilitating illness or injury, or because an NHS appointment has been cancelled.

And the cancellation levy will not apply on a multi-vessel journey where one leg of the journey has been cancelled by CalMac. 

In other cases, travellers who cancel their journey ahead of travel will pay a levy which ranges from 25% of the total vehicle fare if they cancel 29 days or more before travel, rising to 100% of the fare if they cancel within 24 hours of travel or fail to show up at all.

A £10 levy will be charged if customers wish to change the date or time of their journey 48 hours or more ahead of travel. Amendments cannot be made within 48 hours of travel, but customers can cancel a reservation and make a new one.  

Ms Burke said: “This proposal is aimed at discouraging those who make multiple reservations, then cancel the ones they no longer require at late notice, often too late for us to reallocate the space. 

“More rigorous application of our terms and conditions is an essential step in better managing deck space capacity. 

“Beginning this month, we will follow our approved consultation process across the eight appointed ferry committees/transport forums. 

“Each consultation period will last 30 days, after which we will collate all feedback, review, and assess any impact. After follow-up consultation our findings and responses will be published in June 2022.” 

MSPs have received the information, she said, so that they can better respond to enquiries from constituents about the proposals.