SCOTTISH island residents are calling for an overhaul of CalMac’s ticketing system as locals say it is too hard to get aboard ferries in peak tourist season.

Community groups from the islands of Mull, Iona and Arran have been increasingly vocal in their criticism of CalMac’s “first-come-first-served” ticket sales, which they say is prejudiced against islanders.

According to the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee (MIFC), the current system favours those who can plan their journeys the furthest in advance for getting spaces, who are usually tourists planning holidays weeks and months before their trip. This leaves islanders finding it difficult to “plan every shopping trip or family visit so far ahead of time.”

And surveys published by community groups have shown overwhelming support for a change to the status quo.

Joe Reade, chair of MIFC, said: “Islanders find themselves trapped during the summer months, unable to get a vehicle ticket because they’ve all been sold to tourists. This prejudicial system is no longer acceptable.

"We are treated as second-class passengers on our own lifeline service. Often the trips with shortest notice are the most important – hospital visits, funerals and livestock movements for example.

“All too often islanders can’t make those essential trips because the ferry is full of motorhomes and holidaymakers.”

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MIFC worked together with Arran Ferry Action Group (AFAG) to poll their communities on an alternative system that they say would be much fairer. 

It is modelled on a system used on the Danish island of Samso. Like Mull and Arran, Samso is a popular tourist destination where, if unchecked, tourist demand could prevent islanders from accessing the ferry when they need to.

The Samso ferry company operates two booking lists – one for islanders, and one for everyone else.

The response from Mull, Iona and Arran communities was overwhelmingly positive. Approximately 30% of the adult population on each island took part in the surveys, and 95 – 96% supported the proposal.

Other Hebridean islands have expressed interest and support for the proposal, including the small island of Coll, where a similar survey of more than 50% of households found 96% support for the idea.

The surveys revealed numerous individual impacts of the current system. They include people who could not attend funerals, had medical trips disrupted or made more expensive, family trips cancelled and business disrupted.

Several commenters suggest the issue is so impactful they are contemplating leaving their island.

Only around 2% of respondents reported being able to get their first choice of vehicle booking every time, and more than 40% said they were able to travel when they needed to “only rarely”.

As the current system is prescribed by the Scottish Government, any changes would be the prerogative of Transport Scotland.

Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth recently met with stakeholders to hear their concerns.

“We had a very constructive meeting with Jenny Gilruth, the Transport Minister, just a couple of weeks ago,” said Moray Finch of Mull & Iona Community Trust, also a member of the islands’ ferry committee.

“She recognised the difficulties created by the current booking system and listened to our arguments. The Minister is now in receipt of our report, and we look forward to government action on this critical island issue”

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A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “We understand the impact of capacity constraints on islanders and appreciate the suggestion of some level of prioritisation. There are, however, differing views on the way to achieve this and we are mindful of wider implications for island businesses by restricting the availability of tickets for freight and tourists.

“It is clear that we need a ferry service that meets the needs of island communities. CalMac Ferries Limited and Transport Scotland are looking at potential short-term measures that could be introduced to help alleviate the current capacity challenges.  An example of this is the change to motorhome fares and standby arrangements, which were key requests from the Mull & Iona Ferry Committee. We remain committed to continue to working with stakeholders on these issues.”