A Scottish Government scheme to introduce cheaper ferry fares has led to a surge in popularity of visitors with more cars and traffic travelling to the islands.

The Road Equivalent Tarriff (Ret) was introduced with the intention of boosting remote economies.

Ferry services and island communities are dealing with additional traffic - with the total numbers on one route rising by more than 80 per cent.

Loading article content

Read more: New shadow Scottish Secretary refuses to rule out possible coalition with SNP

This increase was seen on the route between Kilchoan, Highlands, and Tobermory on Mull.

Just 3,635 cars made the crossing between October 2014 and July 2015, compared to 6,555 between October last year and July this year.

It is the thought the introduction of Ret - based on the cost of travelling the equivalent distance by road - contributed to the incident on Saturday when passengers were stranded overnight in Kilchoan after the ferry broke down.

On Mull alone, the amount of cars and foot passengers has increased by around 40 per cent.

Rhoda Grant, MSP for Highlands and Islands, said: "Ret is a good thing for islanders, communities and the economy, but you can't increase passenger numbers without any preparation.

"We should have been working alongside islanders to prepare for the increase in passenger numbers."

Read more: Nicola Sturgeon to unveil post-Brexit 'economic stimulus' package

She added that a lack of campsites, bins for rubbish collection and places to empty chemical toilets had been among the issues raised after Ret was introduced on the Western Isles in 2008.

Ms Grant said: "Lessons should have been learnt and something should have been put in place before it was rolled out.

"It should have been done in a way that enabled islanders to benefit from Ret while the infrastructure was being installed before opening it up further.

"If tourists have a bad experience, they are not going to be rushing back."

Read more: Chemical giant Ineos blasts SNP's "absurd" fracking stance

But Billy McClymont, chairman of Mull Community Council, said the islanders welcomed the introduction of Ret.

He said: "We are trying to be positive about the situation we find ourselves in. The place is gridlocked, but we want to resolve it.

"We definitely don't want to put anyone off coming to Mull."

Ret was first introduced on Coll and Tiree in October 2008, and has gradually been rolled out across the rest of the Western Isles in the years since.

A spokesman for CalMac said: "This is the first summer that Ret has applied across all our routes and we are monitoring the situation closely.

"Carryings are up on many routes, but a more detailed analysis will be required to fully understand if and how the reduced fares are influencing travel behaviours."

A spokesman for Transport Scotland confirmed that Ret was designed to promote the Scottish islands by reducing the costs of ferry fares.

He said: "Not only does this reduce the economic disadvantage faced by these communities, but it also enables the islands to make a bigger contribution to Scotland's economic prosperity."