Scottish Ferry Services: Ferries Plan (2013-2022)



Current Service Provision

143. Barra has one mainland ferry link from Castlebay to Oban. Because of the substantial distances involved, a typical journey time is around five hours. During the summer time-table period there is at least one single sailing on six days, except on a Saturday. Some of the sailings are shared with Lochboisdale during the summer time-table period. During the winter time-table period the number of sailing days is reduced to four days on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and an overnight sailing on a Thursday. For a period during the winter all of the sailings are shared with Lochboisdale.

Assessment of Current Service Provision

144. Our routes and services needs-based assessment tool allows us to make an evidence-based assessment of current services for Barra. The key difference between the model and actual service profiles is the number of sailing days during the winter time-table period. Currently there are only four sailing days during this period. The recommendation is that this should be increased to at least five sailing days.

Programme for Future Service Provision

Short-Term - winter 2013/14

145. The difference in sailing days between the summer and winter time-table periods to Barra is a direct result of vessel availability with two vessels available in the summer time-table period, opposed to one vessel during the winter. The Clansman provides an all-year service, while the Lord of the Isles (LOTI) is available during the summer time-table period only. The LOTI is unable to stay on-route during the winter time-table period, as it is used as a relief vessel as the larger vessels in the fleet are rotated through their annual refit programme.

146. The proposal from the winter of 2013/14 is to deploy the MV Isle of Arran - to ensure a two-vessel service for Barra during the winter period. The operational impact of this decision will be to provide an additional sailing day during most of the winter time-table period (the current winter time-table will apply during the annual 4 week refit period for the MV Isle of Arran).

Longer-Term (within the next tendered CHFS contract period, commencing 2016)

147. In the long-term the Isle of Arran/replacement will not be available during the winter time-table period for this route. (Isle of Arran will be deployed on the Firth of Clyde.) The proposal for the new Oban Craignure service during the summer period will see two vessels operate on this particular route. One of these vessels will be deployed during the winter time-table to Barra, Coll and Tiree to enable the improved level of service to continue to be delivered. At this time we will also consider what other services may be offered to improve the level of provision within the new time-table.

Uists and Benbecula

Current Service Provision

148. There are two ferry services that connect the Uists and Benbecula with the Scottish mainland. Services between Lochmaddy and Uig run seven days per week all year with an average of two return sailings per day. The winter time-table period is comparable. Journey times are around one-and-three-quarter.

Assessment of Current Service Provision

Uig to Lochmaddy

149. The existing service matches the model service provision. No further changes are required to this particular service[10]. The future service provision for the Lochmaddy to Uig service will be maintained at current levels.

Oban to Lochboisdale

150. A second set of services connect Lochboisdale with Oban. This is largely a shared triangular service with Barra. During the summer time-table period, there are four sailing days with one sailing per day. For the winter time-table period, the number of sailing days is also four. The direct journey time is around five hours, although only three are direct in the summer and one in the winter.

151. As noted in the Draft Ferries Plan, the route between Lochboisdale and Oban carries significantly less in terms of patronage than the route between Lochmaddy and Uig. The crossing on the Lochmaddy to Uig route is also considerably shorter. However, given the substantial journey time saving that this route offers to residents of South Uist, and the importance of the future viability of the local community, we consider that this route should be retained.

Future Service Provision

152. The Draft Ferries Plan consulted on the prospect of an improvement in services to Barra. Because of the linked service with South Uist, any improvements could also have beneficial consequences for the Oban to Lochboisdale service.

153. Currently there are four sailings days (including the overnight sailing on a Thursday) during the winter time-table period for Castlebay/Lochboisdale to Oban. Under our proposals for Barra, this will be increased to five sailing days

Proposals for a Lochboisdale to Mallaig Service

154. Strong representation was received in response to the Draft Ferries Plan consultation.

155. At the moment, the triangular Oban-Castlebay-Lochboisdale service is provided principally by one vessel during the summer months (with a second vessel providing a limited number of additional sailings). To provide a separate service to Mallaig from Lochboisdale would mean a reduction in service provision on the Oban-Barra route, equivalent to the winter service where there is only one vessel on the route.

156. The only feasible way to provide this service without a diminution of services elsewhere would therefore mean an additional vessel. An additional vessel for this route would require between £20m to £40m of capital investment and a running cost of around £3-4m per annum. Over the lifetime of an additional vessel (30-40 years) this amounts to over £100m of public funding.

157. Despite this, as we confirmed in the Draft Ferries Plan, when other planned improvements to services to, and within, the Western Isles are being made Ministers will consider the economic viability of a service between Mallaig and Lochboisdale. This issue will next be given consideration at the time of deciding on the specification for the next tendered CHFS contract.

Lewis and Harris

Current Service Provision

158. Lewis and Harris have two services to the Scottish mainland. There is a ferry service between Stornoway and Ullapool (in Ross and Cromarty) with a crossing time of between two-and-a-half and three hours. This is a key route for the Western Isles and this is reflected in the traffic that is carried; for the year 2011 around 230,000 passengers, 70,000 non-commercial vehicle and 15,000 commercial vehicle trips were made.

159. During the summer time-table period the service runs seven days a week. On a Monday to Saturday there are normally two return sailings per day, and in the high season three return sailings on a Wednesday and Friday. An overnight freight service 7 days per week is also available. There is one sailing on a Sunday. The winter time-table period is broadly comparable in that there are sailings available on each day and two sailings for each day from Monday through to Saturday.[11]

160. The other service to the mainland connects Tarbert (in Harris) with Uig (in Skye). The service shares a vessel with the Lochmaddy (North Uist) to Uig service. Journey times are comparatively short on this route at around one hour and 40 minutes. This is also a seven day a week service with at least one sailing available each day and for most days two outgoing sailings available. The winter time-table period affects the level of service provision. Seven sailing days are retained but there are only three days which offer two sailings per day.

Assessment of Current Service Provision

161. Both services - Ullapool to Stornoway and Uig to Tarbert - match their model service profiles. No changes are therefore proposed. However, additional sailings on a Friday and Sunday from Uig-Tarbert have recently been introduced. Our intention is to retain these services in the longer term. Also, significant investment of almost £42m for a new vessel for passenger and freight transport on the Stornoway-Ullapool route was announced in June 2012. This vessel is expected to be introduced in 2014.


162. Appendix 7 provides details of the number of additional sailings to be made available when the above changes are introduced.