Scottish ferries have a critical role in linking the Western and Northern Isles and Firth of Clyde into the public transport network, as well as providing essential access for road vehicles. Introduction of the Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) on CalMac routes has introduced an element of logic into the fares structure, but there is evidence that the relative level of charges for vehicles and passengers has encouraged a shift towards more car traffic and less “classic” passenger travel by rail/bus and ferry.

This has three adverse effects:

  • Vehicle space on ferries is often oversubscribed, particularly in the summer
  • Fleet replacement will have to increasingly provide larger and more expensive ships
  • Use of the more environmentally friendly rail and bus connections will decline

Our recommendations for future ferry policy are:

  1. Ensure the lifeline ferry routes to the Western, Northern and Clyde Isles have good rail and bus connections
  2. Revise the RET formula to reduce passenger rates and increase car rates: this could be cost neutral for a car plus two passengers, but would make it cheaper to travel by ferry and train/bus rather than taking a car
  3. Develop the huge tourist potential of scenic ferry journeys with combined rail+sail tours
  4. Maintain a contingency planning helpdesk for missed connections due to poor weather or other ferry delays

Good and reliable public transport links with ferries are essential to encourage greater use of rail and bus connections. This scene at Brodick shows the popularity of connecting buses to other villages on the Isle of Arran. Good train connections from mainland railheads also help to reduce the pressure for space on car decks.

Scottish ferries provide an unrivalled tourist experience which could be further developed by marketing combined rail+sail excursions.

Ship design should provide sufficient outdoor accommodation to allow visitors to enjoy the scenery.