Ferry shortlist consistent with passenger-only future for Gourock-Dunoon town centre service

The Government News Release about the four firms (Clyde Marine, Brian Souter's company Highland and Universal Securities, Cowal Ferries - i.e. CalMac, and Western Ferries) shortlisted for the Gourock-Dunoon tender is here

I have already shown using a series of FoI questions (see here and here and here) that the government's claim to have found "suitable" vehicle-carrying vessel for Gourock-Dunoon was misleading .This government announcement of the shortlist effectively signals what I predicted, that the Government will turn the town centre to town centre route passenger-only and give Western a monopoly of vehicle-carrying

(1) Clyde Marine Services' vessel is the Clyde Clipper which it tested for docking at Dunoon recently and is passenger-only

(2) Brian Souters basic business model in New Zealand is to run passenger-only ferries to connect with his buses, that can be expected to be his business model here. His comments about the shortlist mention only his intentions to "improve on the current levels of service provided to ferry passengers" - not ferry users in general including vehicle and vehicle-related traffic. His existing business model for Scotland has been the passenger-only hovercraft across another Firth, the Firth of Forth. A passenger-only service over the Clyde would be natural extension of what he is planning on the Forth, the obvious inference from a business plan perspective is that he would bookend the Firths of Forth and Clyde with passenger services, probably hovercraft in both cases, connecting to his buses.

(3) CalMac's chairman has already made it clear that they do not see any future for CalMac to run a vehicle-carrying ferry service here:"Timms doesn't hold out much hope for CalMac continuing to run car ferries between Gourock and Dunoon, hinting at a passenger-only operation" Timms here says there is no "room" for CalMac to compete with Western on vehicle-carrying here - yet there was "room" for Western to enter this market and for two vehicle-carrying operators in the Seventies when the market was a fraction of what it is now. In fact the Gourock-Dunoon ferries carry about 2/3 the annual volume of traffic of the rest of the CalMac network. But that does not matter if the CalMac chairman does not want to continue vehicle-carrying here.

(4) Gordon Ross, MD of Western Ferries confirmed in the meeting with the Minister Stewart Stevenson in Dunoon recently in the context of discussion of "suitable" vehicle-carrying ferries that he has been searching for such ferries for some time and had not found them. In any case, there is no commercial logic in Western paying berthing dues for vehicle traffic at Dunoon and Gourock when they can run them for free at their four linkspans - especially now that they will know what is public knowledge, that the business models and plans of the other three shortlisted companies will not lead to a competitor to their vehicle-carrying business emerging.

So it does not matter who wins the route, it will go passenger-only and Western will have 100% control of vehicle traffic Gourock-Dunoon.

Neil Kay 16th April 2010