PASSENGER numbers have plummeted on a publicly funded ferry service after it was downgraded earlier this year to save money.

Figures released by Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), which subsidises the Gourock to Kilcreggan route, show that there were 12,389 trips made between April 21 and July 14 – more than 4200 fewer than the same period last year.

The service has experienced a catalogue of problems including breakdowns and restrictions imposed by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency since it was taken over by Clydelink in April.

Ferry users claimed the SPT had downgraded the service without regard to the impact this would have.

Kerr Gardiner, a member of the Kilcreggan Ferry Users Group, said: "We've ended up with a service where you're sitting on uncomfortable wooden boxes.

"We're coming up to winter and much of the passenger accommodation on the boat is outside, which is a real concern for people.

"I've spoken to a few people who said they are now looking at alternative modes of travel. I've been left significantly out of pocket as a result of having to travel by bus to Helensburgh to get the train into Glasgow."

The Kilcreggan ferry is relied on by workers at the Clydeport and Faslane naval bases who live in Inverclyde as well as students, hospital patients and commuters living on the Rosneath peninsula, who face a one-and-a-half hour road journey if the 10-minute Clyde crossing is cancelled.

The route was expected to lose 4200 passengers a year as a result of no longer including Helensburgh in its route, but the 25% drop over the summer months is far steeper than predicted.

However, SPT defended the service, insisting it was not a "lifeline" route and pointing out the level of subsidy per passenger has fallen by around half, resulting in a saving for taxpayers.

A spokesman for Clydelink conceded the drop in passengers was related to "service issues" but said these had now been resolved.

"The figures SPT have produced don't take into account any of the passengers we have conveyed by coach.

"We've had a particularly poor summer, weather-wise but for the last two months we have only missed one sailing and passenger numbers have increased."