FERRY users on Cumbrae have accused Caledonian MacBrayne of "double charging" after it emerged winter season tickets on the Largs crossing won't be accepted from Friday.

CalMac has told the Cumbrae Ferry Committee (CFC) that tickets bought during the winter timetable, which runs until today (March 28), will not be valid when the company's summer timetables and fares come into effect on Friday, March 29 - and that tickets will not be refunded.

The committee says it has been pushing for months to persuade CalMac to allow a 'grace period' or to provide refunds for unused tickets, but without success.

But CalMac insists that the requirement for 'turn up and go' tickets to be used within the season they were bought has been in place since May 2023, and that awareness of the rule has been spread through port staff, on social media - and through stakeholders such as CFC.

A CFC spokesperson said: "CalMac will not honour winter timetable tickets from Friday, so people will have to buy new tickets.

"We have been pushing for months on an effective transition plan, however CalMac have just entrenched their position not to allow a grace period or any refunds for any unused tickets.

"CalMac claim to have done effective communication and education. The Cumbrae Ferry Committee consider it woeful and totally inadequate.

"As most islanders are encouraged by CalMac to buy return tickets at the Largs office, the majority of islanders will have a return portion in their wallet, who will have to buy another ticket to leave the island after Friday, so CalMac are basically double charging islanders.

"We would support as many complaints as possible. Their approach to educate people and manage the transition has been woeful.

"Please have sympathy for the port staff that you are talking to, as this is a policy dictated by their senior management."

The winter fare is £3.60 return for a driver or foot passenger and £13.90 for a car.

The summer fares which come into effect on Friday are £4 return for a driver or foot passenger and £15.20 for a car.

Other ticket prices, including for children, motorhomes, caravans and motorbikes, will also change.

Anyone with concerns about ticket validity can email customercare@calmac.co.uk.

Island resident Phil Lonsdale, a former chair of Cumbrae Community Council, said the ferry's users were having to pay more for a poorer service.

He said: "Cal Mac fares increase by over 10 per cent at midnight tonight.

"The company have stated they will not honour any tickets (including the return part) purchased before this point. Nor will they refund them.

"The Loch Shira has had ramp issues for a prolonged period. She has been into dry dock to "fix" this twice, to date. In March she has only operated as a roll-on roll-off ferry for one full week.

"Reversing on increases loading times leading to the ferry running off time-table and missing a run or two a day. So the queues at both sides are frequently over one or two hours.

"This has put many islanders off travelling, meaning they are going to be left with a non-refundable, non-usable return ticket."

North Coast councillor Todd Ferguson (Conservative), who lives on Cumbrae, said: "It’s absolutely ridiculous that anyone who has already purchased a return ticket will not be able to use it as of Friday, March 29, when we switch to the summer timetable.

“We have many residents and visitors who will not be leaving the island before the expiration date.

"There is also no ability to buy a physical ticket on the island, and not everyone uses the online ticket system. Will they be allowed to leave the island without a valid ticket?

“It is even more ridiculous that it appears as though CalMac are not even going to refund anyone who is in possession of a return ticket, thereby, double charging people. 

"That's completely unacceptable."

His fellow North Coast councillor Ian Murdoch added: "If you have bought, and are in possession of, the tickets, and the money has been paid out to CalMac, why wouldn't they honour them?

"It is a ridiculous situation not to honour the tickets,. In fact, it is a totally ridiculous situation that they have even considered not honouring the tickets when they have already been purchased."

A CalMac spokeswoman said: “As is stated in our Terms and Conditions, any Turn Up and Go ticket purchased during the winter timetable period is not valid during the summer timetable, which starts on March 29.

“CalMac gave Turn Up and Go customers a one-off grace period at the end of the 2023 summer season in October to allow them to use any leftover tickets and as a way of raising awareness.

"As well as highlighting ticket validity through local community stakeholders and on social media, our port staff have also been reminding customers of the need to use up winter season tickets.”