A long-standing local campaign has been waged in Dunoon for the return of a service similar to that previously operated by CalMac. But in 2011 ministers tendered the route as a passenger-only operation, now operated by CalMac's sister company Argyll Ferries. This left the unsubsidised private sector Western Ferries providing the only car ferry services.
A feasibility study was commissioned by the Scottish Government into operating a passenger and vehicle ferry service between Gourock and Dunoon town centres, without the need for additional subsidy, and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon then asked Transport Scotland "to engage with potential operators, as they would in preparation for any new tendering exercise".
Six companies responded: Argyll Ferries Limited; Clyde Marine Services Limited; GSS Marine Services; P&O Ferries; Serco and Western Ferries. But only one said it would run a passenger and vehicle service, and then "only if Scottish Government bore revenue risk for the vehicle service".
Four said they would just be interested in passenger only services and the last one said it would depend on the tender.
Ministers will now take this into account when preparing the next tender for the route, due to begin in 2017.
Kenneth Barr, of the Dunoon-Gourock Ferry Action Group, said it was not surprised at the response, given the "woefully inadequate" information provided to potential operators, and there could be far greater interest when the service went out to tender.
However, Gordon Ross, Managing Director of Western Ferries, said: "It is now even clearer that there is a significant void between the interest from commercial operators and the politics that unfortunately surround the future provision of this service. Looking forward the focus should be solely concentrated on meeting the actual needs of the foot passenger market."
A Transport Scotland spokesman said the preference was for the service to also carry vehicles, but under EU rules this had to be done at the commercial risk of the operator. He said: "Potential operators showed limited interest in taking the commercial risk of providing a vehicle ferry service and this is one of the factors that ministers will take into account before making a final decision on the future of this service.
"There are a number of obstacles to the delivery of a vehicle-carrying service and it is also prudent to consider the alternative of a passenger ferry service using purpose-built vessels."