A FERRY service plagued with more than 4,500 cancelled sailings in three-and-a-half years is now charging nearly £10 for a return journey.

Passengers using Caledonian MacBrayne's foot passenger only vessels are paying £9.60 each for a day trip between Gourock and Dunoon this summer.

Yet people who cross to Rothesay from Wemyss Bay on the company's more robust and resilient car ferries are being charged £3 less for their journeys.

Campaigners fighting for the return of vehicle-carrying vessels on the 20-minute run from Gourock today blasted the price difference as 'utterly unacceptable'.

Ken Bar of the Dunoon-Gourock Ferry Action Group said: "You do not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that, if it's more expensive for a day tripper to go to Dunoon rather than Rothesay or Arran that there will be an adverse affect on tourism, unless of course you work for Transport Scotland.

"An astonishing three pounds less to travel on superior vessels to Rothesay is utterly unacceptable, and it is little wonder people would choose the least expensive option."

CalMac says that the £9.60 cost reflects a £2 difference from their wintertime fare and also takes into account inflation at 2.4 per cent.

The reason why the Wemyss Bay-Rothesay fare is kept lower is down to a system known as Road Equivalent Tariff (RET).

This involves setting ferry fares on the basis of the cost of travelling an equivalent distance by road.

The RET system doesn't apply to the Gourock-Dunoon route.

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: "The Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse, attended a meeting with stakeholders on April 16 in Dunoon and committed to further consideration of fares requirements.

"Officials are conducting analysis around fare options and impacts."

Transport Scotland says that to introduce RET on the Gourock-Dunoon service 'would increase fares for a large number of users'.

A source said: "While the published fares are higher than RET, many users currently acquire discounted tickets through commercial agents."

In the first six months of this year alone there have been 678 failures to sail on the route — equivalent to 113 service cancellations every month.