CONTROVERSIAL shore-based ticket machines for the Windermere Ferry are to be scrapped following a council U-turn.

The on-shore machines, frequently lambasted because they are slow and overly complex, will be replaced with an on-board one that accepts cash, as well as card devices carried by ferry staff.

It comes after 18 months of fierce opposition from local activists, including a petition that gained thousands of signatures.

An internal review, prompted by a motion from Windermere's Cllr Ben Berry, led to a report on the machines being submitted to Cumbria County Council.

"This is fantastic. It is a major step in the right direction," said Cllr Berry, who has been campaigning with the action group to have the on-shore machines scrapped. "It is a shame that it took so long, but credit where credit is due, it is not often a council admits they are wrong, says sorry and does something sensible.

"This is a victory for common sense. There are still going to be machines on board, so we will have to monitor that. But the card readers carried by operatives, and the single-button-system on the machines will be 100 times simpler than the machines against which we have been campaigning.

"I am very excited. They have said the system will be in place 'before the busy holiday period in 2018', so I'm hoping that will be before Easter."

The report from the council said the on-shore machines were to be scrapped because the number of options offered when using them created 'too many steps to complete a transaction in a timely manner."

Health and safety concerns regarding drivers being forced to leave their vehicles in order to use the machines, along with the negative public opinion, were also cited as a reason for the decision.

The report also said that, as a result of the shore-based machines, "boarding times slowed significantly" with typical ferry trips increasing from 20 minutes to 30. The council also accepted that this in turn caused longer queues, with the potential of there being 18 vehicles and 50 foot passengers waiting.

Under the new arrangements foot passengers will use an on-board machine with just one ticket choice, for which they could pay cash.

Drivers and cyclists are also expected to pay on board, using card or smart phones, with payment machines carried by ferry staff.

Those drivers and cyclists that wish to pay by cash can do so by leaving their vehicles and using the on-board machine.

Pre-purchasing tickets will also be encouraged, and a website and smartphone app are being developed to enable this to be done as people wait for the ferry.

Jenny Slee, who organised the petition against the on-shore machines, said: "We are cautiously optimistic. I have a note saying that the council anticipate most drivers to pay by card to the operatives. It also says a mobile cash payment system is being considered.

"We will be fully happy when that is an option so drivers do not have to get out of their cars to pay cash.

"It all looks to be going in the right direction. Compared to where we were last year, we are delighted."

Tim Hardy, of the action group, added: "On the face of it this is a great result. It is going back to an on-board payment system, which is what we wanted.

"The council handled this in the wrong way. They made it a them versus us situation."

Council officer Mike Smith, who prepared the council report, was praised for his approach and was described by Mr Hardy as being "the breath of fresh air and the leading light we all wanted."

Cllr Janet Willis, CCC cabinet member with responsibility for customer services, said that in hindsight the number of changes to operations did not follow the high standards of consultation and implementation the council normally adheres to.

"For that, let me stand here today and sincerely apologise," she told councillors at a meeting of the Cabinet. "This ferry service is not just for tourists, but an integral part of the daily commute for many locals, and we did not give them the consideration they were due.

"Storm Abigail and Desmond have a lot to answer for, in this regard, diverting our hard working team of officers from implementation of the new Windermere Ferry payment system, to flood recovery work.

"We've listened, improved signage, simplified the ticketing system and provided extra capacity via additional ticket machines and staff to assist.

"The request to full council in June was 'to identify a payment solution which is swift, secure and available on board whilst also safeguarding the income which the ferry generates'. I hope people will agree we've achieved this."