As exclusively reported by Island Echo last month, the Isle of Wight MP wrote to the 3 cross-Solent operators asking them to explain 8 weeks of significant disruption – which has continued since the letter was sent on 29th October. This was based on a timeline of incidents compiled by Island Echo.
In reply, both Wightlink and Hovertravel have apologised to passengers for disruption but both pointed their services were ‘reliable’.
Red Funnel has told Bob several accidents in the Medina involving its vessels were being “comprehensively investigated” and it said it had experienced far less disruption than other operators. It added it was committed to operating a safe and reliable service.
Mr Seely has today (Tuesday) said:
“I am pleased that all the operators are taking their responsibility for these incidents seriously and that they understand passengers’ frustrations and anger over what has happened over the last few months. I have noted what all three companies have said but I will continue to monitor their performance.”
“Thank you for your letter dated 29th October 2018. My reply takes the opportunity to provide some information about the disruptions and outlines the steps we have taken to improve Hovertravel’s reliability and the services to our customers.
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“I would firstly though like to apologise to any customer that has been affected by any disruption. Hovertravel is a family owned company and continues to be passionate in its involvement with the Isle of Wight. We are committed to ensuring we offer a safe, reliable and consistent service for all users to and from the island.
“Hovertravel’s owner committed to investing £10 million some years ago into two new hovercraft to replace the craft which were built in the 1990’s, ensuring the security and longevity of the fastest link across the Solent. We appreciate there has been a number of disruptions as we manage the implementation of these new craft. We are dedicated to seeing the successful fruition of this process and we have technical solutions for all of the issues which have been identified.
“To maintain our two craft fleet, however, we need to finish the current engineering tasks on Solent Flyer which is expected back at the end of November, and then make the same modifications to Island Flyer, which will be completed by March 2019.
“A comprehensive review of the complete business was undertaken in September and October, which assessed all areas of Hovertravel, including reliability, the operation, the customers and the effective use of the resources. Following this, and the feedback we received from our customers, we announced a number of changes, including our new timetable; the continuation of the 30-minute departures for morning and evening commuting periods and the return of the hourly winter service outside of peak times.
“By continuing the 30-minute timetable, Hovertravel can fully utilise its two craft fleet to help manage the peaks and troughs which all transport business face when operating an intensive, daily service. Hovertravel operates up to 62 crossings per day, excluding just Christmas Day and Boxing Day, starting from 0615 and finishing at 2100. With two craft we can minimise delays and, on busy days or for special events, add in extra services to answer additional demand.
“In our announcements we have been to stress that the review revealed that our 15-minute service had not been fully utilised across the peak period, more often than not, only 50% of seats were being used. Our review also looked at more efficient customer communications, enhancing our on-time performance and how we interact with the local communities on both sides of the Solent. Hovertravel is a significant local employer, an enthusiastic supporter of local charitable causes, passionately dedicated to work with all sectors of the island community and a responsible contributor to the local economy.
“Part of being a considerate company with outstanding customer service is continually looking at how the operation can be improved as we have done with our review, and we want to build on the 96% reliability we achieved over the summer to work towards 100% in 2019.
“The entire team at Hovertravel are totally committed to ensure continual improvement to our services, and once again we sincerely apologise for any disruption our customers may have experienced”.
“Thank you for your letter highlighting the issues Solent ferry companies have faced over the last few weeks.
“I share your disappointment that Wightlink has not provided the high level of reliability that our customers rightly expect of us and want to take this opportunity to make a full apology to everyone who has been affected by delays and cancellations on our services. I understand your anger and frustration.
“Although our reliability statistics over the first eight months of 2018 were good with fewer than two in every hundred sailings cancelled, technical issues caused delays to many of our sailings in October. This is completely unacceptable and we are working hard to identify the root causes of the problems. In particular, we are liaising with the suppliers of the systems installed on our Yarmouth-Lymington ferries to address mechanical failures and improve reliability.
“Some services were cancelled because of poor weather. Wightlink will always put safety first and our Masters have the authority to decide whether or not to sail if visibility, strong winds or any other factor make it unsafe, in their opinion. However, I acknowledge we need to improve the way we communicate news of cancellations and disruption to our customers and this is in hand.
“Our error surrounding the certification of St Clare caused problems for many customers on Friday 12 October and I apologise for this mistake. In common with all passenger shipping companies, Wightlink has a statutory obligation to have an approved Safety Management System (SMS) to cover all operations. We have an SMS in place. In turn, our SMS requires a valid Lloyds Register Certificate of Class for St Clare and it was this certificate (along with an Air Pollution Prevention Certificate) which expired on 5 October due to an administrative error. This omission was flagged up by Wightlink staff on 12 October and the ship was immediately removed from service. St Clare was inspected by Lloyds Register the following morning and the certificates were immediately re-issued without any defects needing to be remedied. The vessel’s Passenger Ship Safety Certificate and insurances remained valid throughout.
“It is completely unacceptable that this kind of error should have occurred, and I have personally overseen changes to procedures to ensure it is not repeated.
“I and my colleagues at Wightlink are extremely sorry that this voersight caused so much disruption to our customer and fron-tline staff, especially in view of the progress made this year in improving our services. We have already apologised to everyone directly affected.
“Once again, I am sorry that we have recently not delivered the reliability that Islanders and mainlanders expect and can assure you that we have focusing all our efforts on putting matters right”.
“Thank you for your correspondence regarding issues affecting cross-Solent travel.
“Whilst Red Funnel services have experienced far fewer disruptions compared to other operators, I would like to reassure you that we take our commitment to ensuring Island resilience extremely seriously. On some occasions we must, however, delay or cancel services if weather conditions are such that we cannot safely operate. This is an inherent moral and legal responsibility for any operator and I am sure that you would expect us to continue to put the safety of all users as our number one priority.
“I emphasise that, like you, we take the recent incidents involving our vessels extremely seriously. As a prudent operator where safety is our number one priority, the incidents are being comprehensively investigated; clearly it would not be appropriate for me to comment on these at this time. However, to add some context, Red Funnel operates over 30,000 services a year between Southampton and Cowes almost entirely without incident.
“Whilst we strive to operate at a 100% reliability rate and maintain spare vessels alongside a comprehensive maintenance regime to support this, occasionally technical issues do occur which are beyond our control.
“In the 8 week period detailed in your letter Red Funnel’s reliability over 5,429 scheduled services was 97.71% for Vehicle Ferries and 99.13% for Red Jet services, and these disruptions are for a number of reasons. September’s reliability data showed 98.92% for Vehicle Ferries and 99.88% for Red Jet services, and October’s data will be published on our website on completion of the month.
“The total reliability figures for 2017 were 99.82% for Vehicle Ferries and 98.64% for Red Jet services. Red Funnel is committed to operating a safe and reliable service to and from the Island, and we are proud to do so. We apologise to those passengers who have experienced disruption on our services recently but emphasise that the vast majority of our services operate as planned and arrive on time. That said, we are not complacent, and continue to ensure that we operate to the highest standards”.