FERRY bosses have warned that if Scotland experiences a surge in staycations this summer as travel restrictions are gradually lifted – a normal summer service “could not be delivered while maintaining two metres physical distancing protocols on board.” 

UK-wide body, the Caravan and Motorhome Club, says that bookings are up by one third year on year for July, August and September – with an expected boom in people enjoying Scotland’s destinations as lockdown and travel restrictions are carefully eased over the coming months. 

CalMac Ferries Limited has warned MSPs that if it was required to put on a full summer timetable, the company will need up to 10 weeks’ notice “to recruit seasonal staff” while stressing that it could double the number of passengers it can carry if the two-metre social distancing rule is reduced to just one metre – although Nicola Sturgeon has previously stressed that this is not being considered by the Scottish Government. 

The company is currently operating a reduced service during the lockdown and is restricting the use of its fleet to essential travel for islanders, key workers and those delivering supplies. 

Staff have been forced to refuse travel to hundreds of people attempting to make non-essential journey including day trips – while police have been called in on occasion to help CalMac staff verify the reason for people wanting to travel to island communities. 

READ MORE: CalMac 'discover golfers hiding in vans' in attempt to evade lockdown rules and travel to Scots islands

In written evidence to Holyrood’s rural economy and connectivity committee, the company, which is publicly owned, has called for the Scottish Government to consider “prioritisation of passenger categories if demand outstrips capacity” if and when restrictions are gradually relaxed – while also pointing to “temperature screening” to determine whether passengers are fit to travel. 

The evidence says: “Implementing physical distancing of two metres throughout our operations will reduce the capacity of our fleet on average to 17 per cent of normal passenger capacity and 91 per cent of car deck capacity. 

“Reducing physical distancing to one metre would double the passenger capacity. Physical distancing will increase loading times and we would not be able to operate our normal timetables on the high service routes which require quick turnarounds.” 

It adds: “As more travel restrictions are relaxed, particularly as some degree of tourist journeys and travel to holiday homes is permitted, demand could grow towards a normal shoulder period. 

READ MORE: People arriving in Scotland face £480 fine if they fail to self-isolate for 14 days

“Once demand grows towards that of a normal shoulder season, it will exceed the available capacity and the timetable will need to be adjusted to cope with the additional demand.

"If demand returns towards a normal summer season, it could not be delivered while maintaining two metres physical distancing protocols on board. 

“To scale from an essential lifeline timetable to a winter or shoulder timetable is expected to take around four weeks, whereas transition to a summer timetable will take around eight to 10 weeks to recruit seasonal staff." 

CalMac has been consulting with destination management organisations from island communities and the west of Scotland, who want “travellers who put pressure on communities" to be the last to be "allowed to travel”. 

The company added: “There is a strong feeling that if hotel accommodation opens but attractions, cafes and restaurants are still closed there will be nothing for visitors to do nor opportunities for them to spend money, hence the desire for a more holistic approach to coming out of lockdown for these sectors.” 

READ MORE: Breakdowns of CalMac ferries up by a third last year

The company has also warned that “people’s reluctance to use public transport because of social distancing concerns” could result in more travellers deciding to bring their cars with them. 

It adds: “The need for our staff to exercise judgement and interpretation as guidance evolves could cause tension with customers. 

“We also anticipate that communities will find it challenging to reach consensus on the desired level of service and speed of change, and that the current ferry consultation framework is not set up to respond to a crisis. Senior political involvement may be required. 

“We are acutely aware of the unique position of the island and rural communities we serve. Any easing of travel restrictions to these areas will be guided by Scottish Government policy and must be gradual, carefully planned and well communicated. 

“Consideration needs to be given to the lead time involved in transitioning up different timetable levels, given it is expected to take around four weeks to transition from an essential lifeline timetable, through to winter and up to shoulder.” 

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily media briefing, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said that, although there is a “significant caveat” in that travel restrictions will only be lifted when safe to do so, future transport plans will be drawn up. 

She said: “Those are obviously areas that the Transport Secretary Michael Mathison is considering carefully. 

“At the moment, what all of us are focused on is making sure that the current restrictions in this initial phase are met and are held to.” 

She added: “I hope the population of Scotland continue to abide by the restrictions that are in place. 

“Those other matters will be considered as we go through the coming weeks and see how we are collectively doing across the country in terms of controlling the spread of the virus and making sure we are taking as much scientific and clinical advice available to us, in order to reach any future decisions.”