Private firms bid to operate Renfrew Ferry

22 Jan 2010

by Vivienne Nicoll, The Herald

Four private operators are in talks about providing a replacement service for the Renfrew Ferry, which will sail for the last time on March 31 after almost six centuries.

Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, which operates the ferry, yesterday decided to scrap the service, saving £400,000 a year. The transport authority has to make savings of £2.5 million in the year from April.

At present, it is subsidising each £1.20 fare by almost £3, which SPT officials say is not good value for money. The two ferries will be sold and SPT is in discussions with the eight staff about the possibility of them transferring to other SPT operations like the Glasgow Subway.

The move was greeted with anger by Paisley North MSP Wendy Alexander and Paisley and Renfrewshire North MP Jim Sheridan,.

Ms Alexander and Mr Sheridan met SPT chairman Alistair Watson in advance of the meeting that sealed the fate of the ferry. They handed over a petition with almost 3000 names calling for the service to be maintained.

After the meeting, Mr Watson described the decision as "very regrettable". He said: "The decision to close the Renfrew Ferry was not an easy one and we recognise it has served communities across the Clyde very well for a long time.

"We are cutting services which will cause some pain but the economic circumstances we are facing are unprecedented and the ferry service across the Clyde has a track record of declining usage and increasing subsidy."

However, Mr Watson said he was in discussion with four companies interested in setting up a new service.

He said: "There has been significant interest from the private sector with four offers from firms which want to look at our Renfrew/Yoker operation and we are prepared to sit down with them almost immediately."

But Ms Alexander said: "This short-sighted decision is a slap in the face to everyone who campaigned to keep the ferry link.

"It is a second big blow after the axing of the Glasgow Airport Rail Link and I am calling on Scotland's Transport Minister to step in.

"The Scottish Government saved £175 million when they axed the airport rail link. Just a tenth of this amount would pay for a new footbridge over the river and one twentieth of this could keep the ferry open. It is time to stop ripping off Renfrewshire."

Despite being able to carry up to 50 passengers, there are normally just a few people on the boat at any time. A total of 140,000 journeys were made on the two vessels last year but SPT estimate it is used by only 20,000 people.

Marie McGurk, leader of Renfrewshire Council, asked SPT to delay a decision on the ferry to allow for a full evaluation of passenger numbers, trip purposes and ways of cutting costs.

She suggested new floating pontoons and smaller vessels could be used at a lesser cost than the present operation but was outvoted in favour of closing down the service.

Gordon Ross, managing director of Western Ferries, said: "The Scottish Government is willing to continue to fund the Gourock-Dunoon route but not the Renfrew service. Our estimates show that if the Gourock-Dunoon service was reduced to the subsidised element which is the passenger service, that could save the tax payer almost £2m a year.

"This could be achieved now and thereby save the Renfrew service."

Reproduced with the permission of the Herald and Times Group.

  • The Renfrew Ferry & the Ferry Inn

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