West coast ferry operator CalMac is introducing a new process that will help islanders attend urgent medical appointments, even if the car deck on the sailing they need to take is full.
The growth in popularity of ferry travel, CalMac carried more than 5.6 million passengers for the first-time last year, means pressure on sailings has never been greater.
“First and foremost, we are a lifeline service to the communities we support, but under the current terms of our contract we cannot prioritise space on sailings for local people, presenting us with challenges in certain circumstances,” said CalMac’s Managing Director, Robbie Drummond.
“This new approach is one way we can offer some flexibilities to islanders who need to attend hospital or other urgent NHS appointments at short notice and is a direct result of concerns they have raised.”
If customers find themselves having to travel for an urgent medical appointment with less than seven days’ notice and are unable to book a vehicle, CalMac Customer Contact Centre will support them to ensure they can reach their NHS destination.
In this event CalMac will arrange travel as a foot passenger with a return taxi journey to their appointment.
Demand for space on ferries has never been greater.
Vehicle traffic has increased more than 31% since 2011 with CalMac now carrying 350,000 more vehicles annually than it did eight years ago.
Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands Paul Wheelhouse said:
“We want our ferry networks to provide the best possible service to the communities that rely on them and we are well aware of some of the challenges they face, particularly over the busy summer months.
“Making a commitment to prioritising passengers travelling for medical appointments is something island communities have told us would really help and we asked CalMac to take forward as part of their Action Plan for services.
“It’s a great example of how a relatively small change can make a big difference to the passenger experience.
“The move complements our recent investment in the pro-active maintenance and resilience of the fleet.
“The Scottish Government remains committed to longer term improvements through continuing to invest in new vessels and ferry infrastructure.”
Last year the ferry operator’s 33-strong fleet carried 1.4 million vehicles to 50 ports and slipways on island and remote mainland locations.
“We recognise our services are under ever growing pressure. By investing in initiatives such as this we hope to help satisfy the demands of regular customers, in certain last-minute circumstances,” added Robbie.
For more information, customers can call the Customer Contact Centre on 0800 066 5000 or read more here.