Eric Schofield’s long experience of west coast travel has turned him into a connoisseur of tickets. So, how does the streamlined scanning technology now in force at mainland ferry terminals compare to the old-fashioned handing-over of a small piece of paper?
In times past tickets for Clyde excursions were purchased from the ship’s purser or his assistants, usually aboard the vessel after departure, although sometimes beforehand from shore-based ticket offices or booths such as at Glasgow’s Bridge Wharf.
Generally tickets would be collected when you disembarked at your destination, if not before. This practice was eventually superseded on all the major routes by tickets being purchased at ticket offices prior to boarding, and with that change came the common practice of CalMac port staff collecting tickets as you boarded, this practice being augmented in recent years by having the ticket recorded on a hand-held scanner.
Having crossed from Ardrossan to Brodick on many occasions, I have witnessed port staff out on the open quayside struggling with the scanning machine in one hand and collecting a growing bundle of tickets in the other — with a gusty wind, often accompanied by driving rain and/or icy temperatures, making the task even more fraught.
It was only during the 2018/19 winter that a small marshalling tunnel for foot passengers was constructed at Ardrossan, thus giving a modicum of shelter for passengers and hard-pressed staff. At Oban the scanning and collection process was carried out within the protection of the terminal building upstairs at Gate 1 or 2 as appropriate. Even here the task could prove awkward — notably when faced with 500-plus passengers to be loaded in a matter of minutes for the morning sailing to Mull (and onward excursion to Iona).
Then, at Ardrossan in the early part of 2019, I experienced my first occasion when the travel ticket was scanned but did not need to be handed over.
The ticket featured here dates from the early part of that year — Saturday 2 February. On only one occasion have I experienced the ‘scan only’ approach at Oban, and on a later occasion the member of staff collecting tickets there did not have a scanner to hand. When I asked about that, the response was “all the scanners have broken down”.
What made me choose 2 February 2019 for a trip to Arran? The weather forecast promised dry, sunny but cold conditions – but it was not just that! The Arran hills had a decent covering of snow to emphasise their grandeur – but again, it was not just that! Clansman had unexpectedly appeared on the service on Sunday 27 January, replacing Hebridean Isles, which had been serving as the relief ferry whilst Caledonian Isles was being overhauled — an overhaul extended as the ‘Caley Isles’ had to await the manufacture/delivery of replacement rudder stocks – but it was not just that!
What made me choose to go that day was the news that Caledonian Isles was now repaired and due to resume service, so there seemed a distinct possibility of getting some photographs of the two big ferries together in or around Brodick, or perhaps Ardrossan.
Well, I got my pictures of both Clansman and Caledonian Isles together in the Brodick Bay area, but even better, as a wee bonus I was treated to a display of trial berthing by Caledonian Isles, both bow and stern in, at Brodick’s standby east berth.
I also got to see Clansman setting off from Brodick for a direct sailing to Birkenhead for overhaul. In addition, not for the first time since its introduction, the much lauded (by CMAL) passenger access system had failed again, necessitating landing and loading of passengers by the car ramp.
Basic, straightforward, everyday ferry crossings can still provide much of interest, but on this occasion a spur-of-the-moment winter trip, starting with Clansman and finishing with Caledonian Isles, proved an enjoyable addition to the memory bank.
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Published on 7 April 2020