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by Robbie Drummond
19 January 2022
Associate Feature: Committed to our communities 

Associate Feature: Committed to our communities 

Ferries are a vital contributor to the economic welfare of our islands. As the main transport link between the west coast, its island communities and the Scottish mainland, all CalMac staff appreciate the critical nature of our role.

Businesses depend on CalMac to import and export their goods and services to and from the mainland. Locals living across the network depend on us to carry them to places of work and education, while visitors need us to take them on holiday or to see family and friends. Tourism also depends on these vital links to deliver great experiences.

The responsibility we hold in terms of a healthy island economy is one we take seriously, and it is therefore vital that the service is reliable, resilient and fit for purpose.

However, we are facing growing pressures which make it increasingly difficult to meet this responsibility. The demand for space on ferries is an economic success story but it has placed a real constraint on our services as customers compete for booking space. In 2019 we carried a record number of 5.7 million passengers, 1.5 million vehicles and 1 million metres of freight transport, and we expect further record numbers in 2022 assuming the economy recovers from the effects of Covid.

We run around 550 sailings per day in the Summer and 410 per day in the Winter. Around 1 in 100 sailings is impacted by a technical failure and 1 in 20 by weather disruption due to the difficult waters and weather conditions we experience on the West Coast.

Our fleet of 33 vessels is fully deployed to the full extent of allowable working hours and we have no spare major vessels to provide additional sailings or cover when we face technical or weather disruption, which places a further strain on our services and our fleet.

In the face of these challenges, we are working hard to put in place measures to increase resilience.

Our investment in vessel maintenance has increased by 54% over five years from £20.5m in 2018 to an estimated £31.5m in 2022, with preventative spend prioritised through our reliability programmes and condition monitoring of critical vessel systems.

 Managing 33 vessels through their annual dry dock is becoming increasingly difficult as we face an increase in defects, emergent work, steel repair and obsolescence of equipment and whole systems, which must be replaced.

Long term yard contracts have been signed to improve yard performance, share risk and impose contracts with penalties to ensure better resilience. Consolidation of spares previously held across the network into a single warehouse has been vital in managing the impact of Brexit. It has also enabled pre-loading of spares prior to a vessel entering dry dock to ensure the right parts are available first time to meet tight overhaul schedules.

The introduction of a modern ticketing system and new digital platforms in 2022 will lead to a simplified and digital customer booking process, maximise utilisation of the car deck and enable us to manage and communicate much better during disruptions.

The Scottish Government has committed to significant investment in our ferries, with four large ferries on the way (MV Glen Sannox, the 802 and two for Islay), investment plans for seven smaller vessels and consideration now turning to new ferry options for Mull.

Our people work hard every single day to provide the best service possible for our customers, creating solutions that benefit the communities that we serve, live and work in. I am confident that the changes we are introducing will improve our services and make our communities proud.

This article is sponsored by Caledonian MacBrayne.

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