Information regarding Argyll Ferries progress: FOI release

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

Information requested

Following public outcry over the horrendous passenger only ferry service between Dunoon and Gourock, Transport Scotland was given several tasks.

In the above context under the Freedom of Information Act please provide the following information:
1. A continuous improvement plan was supposed to be put in place. From inception to the present day please identify what improvements were made along with when they were made and how successful they were.

2. The MV Ali Cat did not have a rescue boat. As a result it was restricted to operating only in calm, clear settled weather with a sea state such as to cause only moderate rolling and or pitching. Obviously having a rescue boat would have greatly reduced the number of times that the MV Ali Cat had to cancel due to weather conditions. Why was the Argyll Ferry service not improved by adding a rescue boat to the MV Ali Cat.

3. Transport Scotland was supposed to arrange cross ticketing between CalMac and Western Ferries so that Cowal's participation in initiatives such as Hopscotch would be restored. What actions were taken to achieve this, when, and why did they fail.

4. When the Dunoon Gourock vehicle ferry service ended crossings to Cowal from the central belt no longer appeared in CalMac marketing literature, indeed even the towns of Dunoon and Gourock disappeared from CalMac maps. Transport Scotland was supposed to take steps to ensure that visitors not familiar with the area knew that it was possible to get to Cowal by ferry both as a foot passenger and in a vehicle. What actions were taken to achieve this and when.

5. Transport Scotland is supposed to oversee an integrated transport network of which both roads and ferries are a part. The "Rest And Be Thankful" has a long history of repeated and lengthy closures. Prior to ceasing the Streaker service did Transport Scotland consider the impact on the network of closures at the "Rest" if the Streaker ferry service was also not available. If so what was the result of those deliberations.

6. When the "Rest" closed and the Streaker service was still in operation what percentage of vehicles chose to divert around the closure using ferries across the Firth of Clyde.

7. When the "Rest" is presently closed what percentage of vehicles chose to divert around the closure using ferries across the Firth of Clyde now that the Streaker service is no longer available.

8. The planned new ferry service on the Dunoon Gourock crossing is to remain passenger only. In coming to that decision was any consideration given to the impact on the transport network, particularly at times when the "Rest" is closed, of restoring a vehicle service on the crossing. If so what was the result of those deliberations.


1. The bus replacement service was in place before the ferry service moved into the current Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS) contract, and continues to operate when the passenger vessels are unable to sail. Improvements have since been made on the Gourock side with the replacement bus now calling into the train station at Gourock, if requested, in order to allow passengers to save time walking the full length of the platform to reach a train.

The action to put in place an improvement plan was for the operator, Argyll Ferries Ltd (AFL). Below is the information held by Transport Scotland. For further information please contact David MacBrayne Limited (DML) as the parent company of AFL.

22 Jan 2012 AFL’s improvement plan is published. Subsequent performance results show a significant increase in reliability and punctuality – although this does not include weather disruption which remains a concern.

AFL’s Improvement Plan - The plan included actions for

  • Improving the reliability of services
  • Improving resilience of services during poor weather
  • Enhancing staff training to better tailor customer needs
  • Improving communications with its customers

At the time of publication, the following actions had already been implemented:

  • technical reliability of the vessels was over 99%
  • variable messaging boards are in place at Dunoon and Gourock
  • timetable changes mean connectivity with rail services is much more reliable
  • text and on-line updates on services are in place
  • work on the covered walkway between Gourock station and the waiting room is close to completion
  • a ScotRail ticket machine is now in place in Dunoon.

CalMac Ferries Ltd (CFL) has a continuous improvement plan in place covering proposals for improvements to the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS) network.

When the service moved across into the CHFS contract in January 2019, part of the agreement included deployment of the MV Coruisk on the route at peak times from approximately mid-December to the end of ‘Winter Timetable’ to help provide some resilience around commuter sailings.

This has happened every year since December 2013, when the service was still being operated by Argyll Ferries Ltd. Reports on the cost and performance of the MV Coruisk during her deployment between Gourock and Dunoon are published on the Transport Scotland website and may be found at the following link: Reports on the deployment of the MV Coruisk (

When the service was moved into CHFS, and the separate contract was not retendered, the Scottish Government awarded the vessel owners (DML) a grant of circa £2.1m to carry out necessary life extension work and investment on both MV Argyll Flyer and MV Ali Cat to ensure the vessels were able to continue to operate until at least the end of the CHFS2 contract in September 2024, in order to enable CFL to fulfil the terms of that contract. Work on the MV Argyll Flyer is complete and the vessel is now back in service. Work on the MV Ali Cat is nearing completion and the vessel received her passenger certificate from the MCA on 7 January 2022. However, due to the current essential timetable there is only one vessel on the route at present.

2. The MV Ali Cat operated within the restrictions imposed by her Rescue Boat exemption certificate (MCA).

Due to the small size and design of the MV Ali Cat and consequent impracticality of fitting a rescue boat on board, the has been MV Ali Cat has been exempted from the requirement to carry a rescue boat, subject to the condition that the vessel will be operated only in ‘favourable weather’. It is expected that this operational condition would facilitate search and recovery of man overboard in a situation where the vessel would have to act as its own rescue boat (MCA)

Further information is not held by Transport Scotland, s17 applies. Please contact DML as the parent company of AFL for information.

3. AFL initially offered tickets for Western Ferries, as well as bus services, when poor weather disrupted sailings, and such arrangements were made on a discretionary basis. The replacement bus service which continues to operate today meets that need and does not require passengers to buy a ticket from Western Ferries. The replacement bus does offer a feasible alternative for when the route is disrupted.

The CalMac Hopscotch was not available on AFL as the majority of CFL customers who utilised this ticket did so with a vehicle. However, the Rover ticket was acceptable by AFL.

Work was undertaken on the cross-ticket recognition process at the time by CFL and Western Ferries. Any meetings and/or agreements were between CFL and Western Ferries.

Transport Scotland does not hold the information you request, s17 applies. CFL and/or Western Ferries may be able to provide you with further information.

4. AFL promoted their own passenger service and Western Ferries, the private operator, continues to promote their own alternative vehicle and passenger service.

Since January 2019 the former Argyll Ferries route between Gourock and Dunoon transferred into the CHFS network and has featured in all CFL literature since then.

5. The Streaker service ended in 2011 following a competitive tendering exercise conducted by Transport Scotland.

This tendering exercise was carried out by this Government in compliance with the rules laid down by the European Commission in its Decision of October 2009 following its long and in-depth investigation of Scottish ferries subsidies.

This Decision secured the acceptance of the Commission to the continuation of a passenger subsidy on the town centre route and for the successful tenderer to offer a vehicle ferry service at their own commercial risk. None of the bids received included a vehicle ferry service.

We have not found on file any record of such deliberations prior to the 2010-11 tendering exercise. No information held, s17

6. No information held, s17 applies.

7. No information held, s17 applies.

8. No information held. s17 applies. However, information on plans for the A83 can be found at

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Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road

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