SCOTTISH Government-owned ferry operator CalMac is being asked to rethink after coming under fire for the chaos surrounding delayed winter timetables that have been put to user groups in draft form.

The timetables, which are normally approved in April, have been delayed, and users cannot book ferry trips beyond October 23, when the winter timetable is due to come into effect.

The Mull and Iona Ferry Committee (MIFC) has said it received “strong” feedback from members of the public to the "seriously flawed" draft timetables, which it saw as a cut to services.

It means that sometimes the busy west coast island route goes from a two vessel service to one which the committee said was "completely inadequate both in terms of capacity and connectivity".

Yesterday after a meeting between committee members, CalMac, Transport Scotland and the transport minister Jenny Gilruth, there were hopes of a resolution over their winter timetable which runs from October 24 to March 30, 2023.

Depending on vessel availability, the route will have a two-vessel service for around 13 weeks.

The group said after a meeting with CalMac officials  no significant changes could be offered. MV Loch Frisa, previously named MV Utne,  for seven weeks will operate on her own, and there will be two and a half weeks when the Isle of Mull will be the only vessel available.

Minister 'intervenes' after backlash over 'cuts' in delayed CalMac winter ferry timetablesNone

Additionally, the committee also took issue with a lack of enough notice, calling it “completely unacceptable”. They said that the draft timetables were presented seven weeks before they were due to be introduced.

Loch Frisa, which will provide one leg of the single-vessel schedule, was described as “incapable” of providing the service required due to its size and speed.

MIFC's chairman Joe Reade said: "CalMac rhetoric will tell you that they care about and listen to ‘our communities’. That is PR hot air. Real life experience is that community ‘consultation’ is a tick-box exercise at best."

In a letter to CalMac, MIFC’s chair Joe Reade said that the ferry’s lack of capacity and speed would “hugely compromise” transport connections with the Isle of Iona, leaving day trips to Oban for its residents “all but useless”.

He said that MV Loch Frisa, which was bought second hand from Norled, the Norwegian shipping company for £9m as a replacement for the 18-year-old MV Coruisk, is "completely unsuited" to the route and was a "ridiculous purchase" saying she is "too small, too slow and does not provide enough capacity while public transport connections have been decimated.

The seven-year-old Loch Frisa carries 195 passengers and 34 cars. That was seen as downgrade on MV Coruisk  - which can carry 30% more passengers, 17% more cars and at a 14 knot top speed was four knots faster.

Minister 'intervenes' after backlash over 'cuts' in delayed CalMac winter ferry timetables

It is also more than half the size of an Indonesia-built vessel campaigners wanted but could not get after a deal fell through over a row between over who was paying for the modifications.

Mr Reade said: "Rather than one easily understood and regular winter timetable, we now have three operating at different times of the winter."

Mr Reade wrote: “Lifeline transport connections with Iona are hugely compromised, including a reduction in the useable time in Oban from nearly six hours to less than three.

“This makes a day trip to Oban all but useless for Iona and South Mull residents, hugely increasing the likelihood that a hospital or dentist appointment will require an overnight stay; making shopping trips risky and rushed and family or business visits pointlessly short.”

He also had concerns about the single service’s impact on the “previously sacrosanct” midday train departure from Oban for Iona residents, as well as timings of mainland bus connections.

The impact of the timetable on schoolchildren was also highlighted, with some expected to have to rise as early as 5.15am in order to make it to school on time – which could result in increased absences.

Alongside other issues with the single-vessel service, including the impact on food delivery trucks and MV Loch Frisa’s unknown resilience under adverse weather conditions, the island communities are also concerned about potential confusion caused by the swapping of three different timetables throughout winter.

The committee said after Tuesday's meeting that the transport minister had "intervened" and had asked CalMac to come up with alternative timetable arrangements.

But it said any changes were "very last minute" and that consultation should have begun months ago.

"We are proposing some changes that will make the outcome a little better. But a second vessel is simply not available – so the only solution is for the Loch Frisa to operate additional sailings," said a committee spokesman.

"Public Transport connections remain difficult (too short) and daily capacity will remain inadequate. "The Loch Frisa is simply not up to the job of delivering a single-vessel timetable. That’s the core problem – CalMac have been provided with a ferry that is not up to the task."

CalMac managing director Robbie Drummond indicated to one user last week that it would communicate the ferry timetable roll out plan early this week.

A spokesperson for CalMac said: “We are currently consulting with the Mull and Iona community with regards to the winter timetable and will consider all comments and proposals from them.

“This winter we are pleased to welcome MV Loch Frisa operating on the Oban-Craignure route, providing an island-centric service for Mull throughout the season, which has been a long-standing community aspiration.

“Our proposals mean that Mull residents will receive either the same or an improved capacity offering for the majority of the year.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “CalMac are currently consulting with the Mull and Iona community with regards to the winter timetable.

“We continue to work with CalMac to increase capacity, investing in the MV Frisa and working to procure more second hand vessels, while the four new ferries we have ordered are being built.”

Calmac, in response to criticism over the delays, has said it has been the result of arrangements over the closure of Uig harbour on Skye to allow for upgrades this winter - which sparked a row over island services disruption.

Earlier this month it was announced that instead of 24-week closure this autumn, work to upgrade the pier will be cut to 14 weeks and split over two periods, from January 16 to March 13, next year and October 30 to December 11.

Last week it emerged that South Uist, which has been hit by a series of disruptions because of ferry failures is to lose services for 15 days from this Saturday due to a critical safety concern with a port.

Lochboisdale, the port which links South Uist to the mainland is to be out of action to ferries between until October 8 to allow for the ferry network infrastructure owners Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited to authorise repairs to the linkspan used by the ferry.

Mr Drummond indicated in July that it had been looking to cut its ferry sailings in 2023 because of its ageing ferry fleet.

The operator of west coast lifeline services said it might have to reduce its winter timetable and, or, delay increased summer sailings next year because of the massive scale of the work needed.

Seventeen of CalMac's 35 working ferries deployed across Scotland are now over 25 years old.

The oldest in the CalMac fleet is is the Isle of Cumbrae which is 46-years old.