The blocking of Shell Street in Stornoway by traffic queuing to get on the Ullapool ferry is sparking top-level reaction - and pleas to travellers to arrive earlier for their ferries, rather than all bunching up in the last few minutes before the deadline.
Plans are being developed by the Stornoway Port Authority, CalMac and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to reduce congestion around Stornoway ferry terminal.
The introduction of the Loch Seaforth on the route saw an increase in traffic around the Stornoway ferry terminal, and this together with later arriving vehicles, has seen traffic jams during the early morning and lunchtime check-in periods.
The expansion of the ferry terminal marshalling area to accommodate traffic for the Loch Seaforth left the ferry check-in point much nearer to the main road.
Councillor Uisdean Robertson, chairman of the Comhairle’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said: “We are, of course, very pleased that the reduction in fares and the provision of additional capacity on the route mean that more people want to travel to, from and within the Outer Hebrides.
"However, it is apparent that this additional traffic has created a number of consequences in ports such as Stornoway and, in this case, we are keen to work with CalMac and the Port Authority to ensure that any congestion or disruption to road traffic on the public highway is kept to an absolute minimum.
“It is clear that there is a growing incidence of traffic backing up onto Shell Street and causing congestion on Newton Street and even as far as the junction with James Street.
"Whilst we are currently reviewing road-markings and signage on Shell Street and, in particular, the roundabout at the junction with the entrance to Pier No 3, we are working with CalMac and the Port Authority to review their respective operational management and marshalling arrangements to provide a more efficient check-in process.”
Finlay MacRae, CalMac’s Area Operations Manager, said: “There are a number of factors which are contributing to the congestion on Shell Street. Firstly, we are seeing a large number of vehicles arriving to check in at the port in a relatively short period of time immediately prior to the deadline.
"This leads to a build-up of traffic in the 10-15 minute period prior to the check-in close and, whilst we would not wish to have to consider extending the check-in period, we would ask passengers to give themselves a bit more time prior to that deadline and have all travel documentation to hand at check-in.”
“The efficient loading of the car-deck is particularly important when there are high levels of traffic on the vessel and the large range of vehicles in terms of weight and size now travelling on the route presents us with particular challenges in terms of marshalling and loading whilst adhering to the route timetable.
“We have allocated additional staffing to the check-in arrangements during the summer months but recognise that improvements could also be made in terms of our use of better technology as part of the booking, ticketing and check-in processes.
"We are working with our suppliers to develop and implement the necessary changes and are currently seeking to have improved processes and equipment in place for early in 2018 and certainly in advance of the peak period, which appears to be starting earlier every year.”
It is recognised that the most effective solution to address the congestion on Shell Street will also include changes and improvements to the marshalling infrastructure and Stornoway Port Authority, has already commenced investigations into alternative options.
Alex Macleod, the Port Authority’s Chief Executive, said: “ Stornoway Port Authority recognise that there is a need for further improvements to the Stornoway Ferry terminal marshalling and parking arrangements, to reduce congestion on the public road and within the ferry terminal area.
“The Port Authority will work with CalMac and the Comhairle to reduce the likelihood of congestion and disruption on Shell Street.”
Councillor Uisdean Robertson said: “We have agreed that a number of interim measures will continue to be put in place by CalMac and would reiterate their request that the travelling public give themselves more time prior to the check-in deadline for the rest of this summer period.
"In the longer term, we are hopeful that, following the implementation of the necessary improvements prior to next summer, there should be little likelihood of a repeat of the congestion seen over the last couple of years and that people continue to see the Outer Hebrides as an attractive and welcoming place to visit.”