In the midst of the challenges faced by the pandemic, the managing director of Western Ferries praised the durability of its operations as the private company that runs the Gourock to Dunoon service struggles with the possibility of another significant closure to quell rising coronavirus rates.
Gordon Ross said that since the crisis exploded in March, the western operation has continued unaffected, as he released the company’s latest financial statements showing the initial effect of the pandemic.
The financial statements show that in the year to March 31, pre-tax earnings dropped to £ 2.1 million, down from £ 2.7 million a year earlier, with income unchanged at £ 8.5 million.
The initial lockdown in March resulted in the number of trips falling from almost 90 to 30 a day, Mr. Ross said.
Although the lockdown was enforced before the beginning of the tourist season, leading to a dramatic drop in the number of people historically using Western Ferries to reach Dunoon and the Cowal Peninsula, Western retained its service to ensure that key staff such as NHS employees could continue to reach their workplaces.
Western has a fleet of four ships and operates a core schedule during normal hours of six departures per hour, with three ferries operating at any one time. This was limited to two sailings every hour during the first lockdown, meaning there was an hourly departure from Dunoon and one from Gourock.
“Mr. Ross said, “We have an arrangement with the local community[to]provide essential personnel, responders and the NHS with transportation, so we have kept the service going.
Western Ferries is a company of walk-in clients, much like a mall or a restaurant. We rely on people to travel about. It’s a simple and frequent service that we provide to allow individuals to communicate with Cowal and Inverclyde and beyond. But that wasn’t the case during the lockdown – it was essential staff, first responders, NHS [personnel].’
During the first wave of coronavirus infections, the importance of sustaining Western services was recognized by Transport Scotland, which awarded the company a £ 214,492 grant in appreciation of providing “essential ferry services” during the pandemic.
In response to a written question to the Scottish government in November, the grant was reported by Paul Wheelhouse, cabinet secretary for transport. The question asked how much financial help Pentland Ferries and Western got’ during the travel time and other constraints caused by the pandemic of Covid 19.’ Pentland, which operates a service between Gills Bay in the north of mainland S S.
The funding was for “the provision of essential ferry services, particularly to support patient transport in ambulances,” said Mr. Wheelhouse.
“It was the first time I’ve seen anything in writing that says Western Ferries’ service is a vital service.” Mr. Ross said.
“He added, “This has helped a lot. Importantly, it was a recognition from Transport Scotland that the service offered by Western Ferries is a critical service.
As the closure was gradually eased over the summer, Mr Ross said that passengers were “keen” to return for leisure activities to the Cowal Peninsula.
After another landslide closed the A83 at Rest and Be Grateful, Western Ferries then experienced a rise in passenger numbers. It was announced in The Sunday newspaper that it might take 10 years to find a permanent solution to avoid landslides on the main road, a 100-mile stretch connecting Loch Lomond to Campeltown. After the route, Transport Scotland still has not set a timetable for reopening the route
“This is another instance where Western Ferries was able to react very quickly to a significant increase in demand,” Mr. Ross said. There was one boat every hour during the closure. Then we had to ramp up to 130 sailings a day overnight to cope with the traffic that had come from the rest and be thankful.
While during the road closure, Western benefited from increased demand, Mr. Ross said it was necessary to find a permanent solution as it would help the whole region of Argyll and Bute.
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