CalMac defends withdrawal of Bute saver fares

CALEDONIAN MacBrayne has defended the withdrawal of a discounted fare for travel between Bute and Kintyre – along with several other changes to its ticketing rules which came into effect at the start of the 2011 summer timetable.

A Rothesay resident attempting to buy a Kintyre-Bute saver return – which offered a reduced combined fare on the Rhubodach-Colintraive and Portavadie-Tarbert crossings – on the second day of the new timetable discovered that it was no longer available.

But a company spokesman said the saver fare had been withdrawn because the route no longer required an incentive to attract traffic.

“The Bute/Kintyre saver was one of a range of saver tickets which are not part of the published tariff, but which are offered as a promotional tool from time to time to encourage travel on certain routes,” we were told.

“These offers are reviewed annually, and it has been decided to withdraw it this summer as the Portavadie/Tarbert route no longer requires this incentive.

“As recipients of public funding, it is incumbent on us to maximise revenue in order to reduce the requirement for a subsidy, so cannot justify discounting tickets when there is no benefit in doing so.

“We will, however, continue to monitor traffic levels and if we believe there is merit in introducing additional saver tickets we will do so as appropriate.

“We are sorry if people have been taken by surprise by the withdrawal of this special saver, but unfortunately it is not feasible to advise everyone who might be affected by every change that is made, especially those which impact on a limited number of people.”

For the same reason, a saver ticket which offered discounted travel for a car and four passengers, on Sundays only, on the Rothesay-Wemyss Bay route has also been withdrawn.

CalMac statistics indicate that passenger numbers on the Tarbert-Portavadie route increased by almost 39 per cent, and cars by almost 21 per cent, between 2003 and 2010.

The company has also attracted criticism for removing all the restrictions on the use of multi-journey tickets on the Gourock-Dunoon service, while leaving the limits in place on all other routes.

Prior to the timetable change, multi-journey tickets could be used by only one passenger or one nominated vehicle on all routes where the ticket was available.

But a note at the foot of this summer’s Gourock-Dunoon timetable – which is shown as only operating until June 30, while the outcome of the route’s tendering by the Scottish Government is awaited – states that all restrictions on the use of multi-journey tickets on that route have been removed.

CalMac’s spokesman said: “We have been able to lift the conditions on multi journey tickets on the Gourock-Dunoon route only, while the tender process is underway, due to the removal of long-standing restrictions on the service. This will apply until a new service comes into operation in July.

“We are reviewing the use of multi-journey tickets on selected routes within the routes covered by the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services contract, including Bute, but currently have no plans to remove the current restrictions elsewhere.”

Most fares across the CalMac network – with the exception of those on routes in the Western Isles where fares based on Road Equivalent Tariff are being piloted – went up by 3.4 per cent at the start of the new timetable.

Winter fares, however, continue to apply to tickets bought in island locations.