THE Gourock to Kilcreggan ferry is to get a new operator after months of disruption caused by mechanical and safety faults.

It is currently run by Clydelink under contract to Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), whose vice-chair is Inverclyde councillor David Wilson.

He said SPT’s decision to go out to tender followed “increasing frustration” over breakdowns of the Island Princess, the only boat on the crossing.

Each stoppage resulted in fed-up passengers having to contend with a 90-minute replacement bus instead of the 13-minute sailing.

Hundreds of people signed a petition calling for a new operator to take over.

It was launched by MSP Jackie Baillie, who’d warned of a ‘break clause’ in Clydelink’s contract in June, saying that unless action was taken now to secure a replacement operator, the contract could be extended.

Cllr Wilson said the tendering process could take about six weeks.

A new operator will take over in June, but will not be asked to have a back-up vessel.

Mr Wilson said: “Very few services like this have a back-up boat. It doubles costs, so that will not be in the tender.

“This will be an exacting tender process. We want to have certainty over the capability of a replacement boat for this important route.”

The ferry is used by people to get to and from work at Faslane and Coulport, for example, and appointments at Inverclyde Royal Hospital.

Cllr Wilson said SPT’s preferred option is for the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency to take over the running of the ferry.

He said: “There is no certainty over when it will happen, so we must go out to tender now.

“We want to maintain this service.”

Ms Baillie said ferry users have been hit by ‘the most abysmal level of service on record’ since the Clydelink contract was renewed in April.

She said: “Passengers are impatient for change, and a more reliable operator.”

Clydelink was awarded the contract in 2012, and in April this year landed a £320,000 extension until June.

The cost of running the service has soared by 50 per cent, but passenger numbers were down by eight per cent in the year up to June.