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14 February 2017, 14:18
A ferry company carried more than five million passengers in a year for the first time in two decades following the introduction of cheaper fares.
Caledonian MacBrayne said 5,055,827 passengers and 1,356,396 cars travelled on its vessels in 2016, the first full year after the roll-out of road equivalent tariff (RET) across the network.
This amounted to 428,801 more passengers and 186,695 more cars than in 2015.
The RET scheme on the Clyde and Hebrides ferry network brought journeys in line with the cost of travelling the same distance by road and has led to sharp drops in many fares.
Its phased introduction began in 2008, with full network coverage by October 2015.
Caledonian MacBrayne said 2016 was the first year since 1997 that it had carried more than five million passengers.
Managing director Martin Dorchester said: ''Last year was our busiest in terms of passengers for two decades.
''This is a great reflection of the professionalism of our staff in dealing with an increase of more than 400,000 passengers and almost 190,000 cars whilst still running a smooth operation to help all our travellers, whether islanders or visitors, business or pleasure, to get where they are going.''
The busiest route overall continues to be Ardrossan in North Ayrshire to Brodick on the Isle of Arran, which carried 828,262 people and 202,843 cars in 2016, annual rises of 8.7% and 6.84% respectively.
The Largs to Isle of Cumbrae route was second-busiest, carrying 738,549 passengers (up 7.49 %) followed by the Wemyss Bay/Gourock to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute route with 675,714 people (up 6.97%).
In terms of cars, the Rothesay route was second with 172,897 (up 19.12%) while Oban to Craignure on the Isle of Mull showed a 40.66% rise to 162,288.
Transport minister Humza Yousaf said: ''These figures underline the success of the full roll-out of road equivalent tariff on the Clyde and Hebrides ferry network, a key commitment from the Scottish Government.
''Cheaper fares bring benefits to locals, visitors and local businesses, making ferry travel more attractive and accessible, as well as providing a boost to the tourist trade.''
CalMac said evidence on a number of routes suggests the reduction in fares has led to islanders journeying more and taking a car with them when prices had previously been seen as an inhibitor.
The highest increase on a 2015-2016 like-for-like route was a 74.09% rise in cars on the Tobermory to Kilchoan crossing, where a larger vessel will operate this summer to cater for the growth in numbers.