The Scottish Government has indicated it will take action to retain space on lifeline ferry services for short-notice bookings during peak times.
In a recent discussion with Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil highlighted the difficulties faced by island communities in accessing ferry services during the busy tourist season.
For people trying to leave Stornoway today (Thursday June 6th), vehicle bookings were available for this morning's early ferry - but none for the next few days at all.
In a follow up letter to Mr MacNeil, Mr Wheelhouse said he was ‘keen to address this shortly through the Action Plan.’
Mr MacNeil has suggested to the Scottish Government that changes to the booking system, to release sections of deck space for booking in stages, could help to resolve the capacity issues. He added that reserving bookings just for islanders could prove difficult in practice.
He said: “I had very positive discussions with the Minister on this.
“Capacity is an issue on our ferries network and I am hopeful that the Scottish Government will introduce measures to address this soon.
“What would help to address the bottle-neck would be to have different time horizons for CalMac to book out deck space.
“When CalMac open bookings they could open it to 70% of bookings, then a month prior to travel they could release another 20% of bookings and sell the remaining 10% during the week of travel.
“This would help individuals and businesses who need to travel at short notice. The beauty of this is that it doesn’t discriminate against anyone and everyone would be free to book within these time horizons.”
In a letter to Mr MacNeil, Mr Wheelhouse said: “The problem you identify of island residents struggling to book their cars on at short notice during peak periods, often for reasons linked to an event distressing in itself such as illness or bereavement, is one that has been raised with me a number of times including at the recent Uists Ferry Summit.
“I have been particularly struck by this in discussions with island residents and their representatives and am keen to address this shortly through the Action Plan.”
He added that any demand management measures would not necessarily apply to all routes and would be considered in consultation and agreement with each community.