How often do we hear criticism of government because their policy is too successful? That is the fate of the Scottish government who rolled out their RET (Road Equivalent Tariff) strategy to ferry fares over most of CalMac’s services last year.
But accusations now being laid at them include: there was inadequate preparation, it should have been tested longer, more funds should have been set aside to cope with problems due to extra traffic, rubbish collection, waiting ferry queues, congestion at terminals and narrow island roads suddenly acquiring traffic flows they are not used to, etc, etc.
It sounds to me that the problems of success are not too diffi cult to live with and the policy is doing precisely what was intended – delivering to isolated communities a larger and more reliable customer base. I believe it is better for ferries, expensive to build and operate as they are, to travel as full as possible perhaps doing extra trips as necessary than to have them travelling nearly empty because fares are too expensive.
I have had much experience of driving in Norway where the ferries (if not being replaced at vast public cost by tunnels and bridges) are an integral part of the highway system. The ferries are excellent in design and build, but for much of the year their lading is very low as traffic flows are often small in this sparsely populated country and the summer holiday season is short. But Norwegians like their holidays and take them often and very seriously, so for several days a year even the larger ferries can’t cope with the traffic available and queues build up and complaints are heard.
So there is no easy answer and on the whole, in Scotland, surely it is right the islands are better integrated into the Scottish economy by pricing the ferries as if they were a regular part of Scotland’s highways. Queuing and congestion can never be completely avoided, but is it not a price worth paying for more successful island businesses? Though to paraphrase a certain saying: it is not diffi cult to tell the difference between a ray of sunshine and a CalMac ferry user with a grievance...