CONCERNS have been raised that a key Scots island is to become "inaccessible" after ferry operator CalMac imposed an up to 70% increase in fares.

A ferry committee fears that nurses and teachers that go to Great Cumbrae, sometimes called Millport after its main town, to support care services and schools will not make the trip as the ferry operator does away with season tickets.

The committee say have made travel unaffordable in the cost of living crisis.

They say annual season tickets effectively ended in December, at a cost of £463 after CalMac began a phase out the previous December. An equivalent cost for a day return over 220 working days would set users back £792.

They say monthly passes are being phased out by the end of this month, having already seen six-month tickets removed.

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Angus Campbell, chairman of the Cumbrae Ferry Committee said: “We are incredibly frustrated that, in the midst of a cost of living crisis, Transport Scotland instructed CalMac to remove season tickets from the Largs to Cumbrae route.

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"This is in line with other routes but does not take account of Cumbrae’s unique position, an eight-minute journey to the mainland with one-hour train access to Glasgow.

"The financial impact on travellers using the ferry service daily represents an increase of over 70%.

"This is unreasonable and untenable for individuals, families and businesses who have budgeted based on a long-established season ticket cost. The removal of season tickets will increase the depopulation of the island and further damage its fragile economy."

Great Cumbrae, which has a community of 1300 residents, historically became an attraction for tourists with Millport a popular stop for Clyde steamers and families going 'doon the watter for the Fair' - a reference to the Glasgow Fair holidays which are usually held during the second half of July.

Mr Campbell said Cumbrae was the only island that did not benefit from the Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) scheme.  He said tourists benefitted from cheaper prices, while islanders who bought multi-journey tickets did not.

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RET is a distance based fares structure introduced after the Scottish Government committed to provide one single overarching fares policy across the country's entire ferry network.

The committee says that Cumbrae is heavily reliant on and integrated into North Ayrshire Council’s services which requires close travel contact.

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Daily commuters onto the island include nurses and support staff at the hospital, a GP and practice team, care home staff and those who provide essential care and support services across the island.

Commuters also include teachers and operational staff who run the primary school.

There are also businesses such as a dairy and food delivery service which deliver daily to the island.

The ferry committee, which has been established for over 30 years says that the increase in costs may compromise the sustainability of these services because many key workers and businesses will not be able to absorb such a significant increase in prices.

Daily commuters off the island also include taxi drivers taking children to a specialist day centre off the island.

Mr Campbell added: “Cumbrae holds a unique accolade for being ‘Scotland’s Most Accessible Island’ but this action risks making the island economically inaccessible to the individuals and businesses which are the life blood of its community.

"Even though the saving which Calmac will make from this action is negligible, around £20,000 they are not listening to our calls for a variation in their new ticketing system. The impact of this decision could have a catastrophic impact on the fragile economy and viability of our island. We urgently call on Transport Scotland to reconsider.”

A spokeswoman for CalMac said the annual season ticket was withdrawn after the introduction of the Road Equivalent Tariff (RET), which she said reduced the cost of standard ferry tickets. She said Transport Scotland rules state they "cannot apply additional price reductions on non-concessionary travel".

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She added: “For the same reason, the monthly season ticket product has recently been withdrawn. The actual impact of this on those who formerly bought monthly tickets will be an increase of around 20%.

“Local communities have been kept informed throughout the transition period via stakeholders such as ferry committees and community councils.”

But the RET, which first started to be brought in in 2015, has been described as a "disaster" for Cumbrae.

The lower prices were seen as cheaper for day trippers and visitors, but not for locals, because of the complicated formula used.

That formula calculates fares through a combination of a fixed element - to ensure services remain sustainable and to cover fixed costs such as maintaining harbour infrastructure and vessels - and a rate per mile, calculated by Transport Scotland analysts using contemporary independent research by the RAC.

North Ayrshire Council has said that since RET was introduced  to the Cumbrae crossing there has been an annual increase in vehicle and passenger journeys on the ferry. Concerns have been raised about the extent of the vehicle queues.

 Transport Scotland has said the roll out of RET has led to an estimated average fare reduction of 34% for passengers and 40% for car traffic on the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry network and saves travellers around £25m a year.