SCOTLAND'S biggest ferry operator CalMac is reviewing the need to run a full service of empty ferries during the Covid-19 pandemic, after coming under fire for wasting fuel and damaging the environment - a day after promoting its green credentials.

The Scottish Government's transport agency said it was now awaiting details from CalMac on how services can be reduced.

It comes after transport staff union TSSA said that ScotRail and other rail services have by contrast to CalMac been running a reduced timetable for months, reflecting the drop in demand and saving taxpayers money.

According to the latest Transport Scotland data, ferry journeys for the period January 25-31 are down by 65% from last year.

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “Given the wider scope of economic and essential reasons for travel, and that a winter timetable was already in place, we did not reduce services at the outset of this lockdown.  

“However, following engagement with the unions and reviewing its operations, we are awaiting a recommendation from CalMac around where services may be reduced. Economic and essential links would have to be considered in any reduction in capacity.” 

On Thursday the publicly funded and Scottish Government owned ferry firm announced it had exceeded targets to reduce its carbon footprint on the waters and islands of Scotland’s west coast.

It is currently also looking to recruit a waste manager and a fuel manager to help "minimise waste and to maximise fuel efficiency to further reduce emissions".

But its green credentials are coming under new scrutiny for running a full ferry service, with no alterations to timetables in light of the pandemic.

The transport staff union TSSA said ScotRail and other rail services had by contrast been running a reduced timetable for months, reflecting the drop in demand and saving taxpayers money.

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes was among those raising concerns that CalMac had not scaled down from a full service in the lockdown whle ScotRail was currently running 65% of services in light of the reduced passenger demand due to the pandemic.

"This is an unforgiveable waste of taxpayers money, to say nothing of the environmental impact," he said.

CalMac in response to the criticism had said it was operating lifeline services as specified by Transport Scotland and were ready to deliver any timetable changes "as required".

Nearly three weeks ago ScotRail said it was further reducing the number of trains running across the country from Monday February 1 as the train operator continues to revise the critical service being provided during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The train operator run by Dutch public transport firm Abellio said the ongoing lockdown restrictions in place were severely reducing the number of people travelling, and the changes being made to the timetable reflect the current demand from customers.

That was the second change from the operator in recent weeks, after the number of carriages on services were reduced earlier in January, with customer numbers down by almost 90 per cent compared to the same time last year.

The company said that the financial pressures of the pandemic has led to a reduction in the services they can offer.

ScotRail said it was to reduce services by around 35% of what it offered before the pandemic, with the focus on providing a safe, reliable service for key workers, having consulted with NHS boards across Scotland to ensure shift patterns for key workers are supported as far as possible.

On January 8 it emerged that National Express and Megabus had suspended their bus services in light of the latest Coronavirus restrictions to hit the UK, which prevents all but essential travel.

National Express, which runs hundreds of services every day to almost every major UK city, said it did not expect to get its coaches back on the roads until March 1 though it stressed this was under regular review. Passengers which have trips booked with the operator up until September 30 were to be entitled to a full refund or can amend their trip free of charge.

In a similar move, Megabus cancelled all trips after January 10 in England and Wales. At the time Megabus, operated by Perth-based Stagecoach which offers low-priced long-distance coach travel within the UK, said the exception to the mass cancellation were services in Scotland and the London to Glasgow route, which also stops in Birmingham and Manchester. These routes were kept open for essential travel only in accordance with UK Government guidance, according to the company.

The only exceptions to this mass cancellation are services in Scotland and the London to Glasgow route, which also stops in Birmingham and Manchester. These routes are for essential travel only in accordance with UK Government guidance, according to the company.

Bus companies operating in Scotland had been criticised in December for cutting essential routes despite recieving £300m in public money – including government Covid-19 bailouts – since the start of the year.

READ MORE: CalMac under fire for running a full service of empty ferries a day after green credentials 'boast'

Answers to a freedom of information request shows that from January until October 2020, bus companies received £192,655,176 under the National Concessionary Travel Scheme from the Scottish Government.

HeraldScotland:

The government also agreed to pay a bus service operators’ grant of £39,918,536, calculated to include additional support due to the coronavirus, as well as Covid-19 “re-start” support grants – which replaced the earlier Covid-19 support payments – worth £78,626,343.

Clauses in contracts state that in return for public finance firms must commit not to reduce the number of kilometres travelled.

READ MORE: 'An outrage' - £25m CalMac ferry maintenance contract awarded to English shipbuilder over Scots firm Dales Marine 

But concerns were raised that contracts still allowed operators to cut the least profitable routes, and, instead, have more buses running on the most “viable” journeys.

In December Transport Scotland announced it was extending financial support for bus services in Scotland until 31 March 2021, with up to £191.3m made available over 40 weeks.

The latest Transport Scotland data shows that concessionary bus journeys are down by 70%.

On Thursday the ferry company had championed its green credentials saying it had exceeded a carbon footprint reduction target ahead of a September 2019 deadline and and significantly reduced single-use plastics and was now working towards eliminating them altogether.