Regional district chairs hammer out ferry priorities

The Island and Coastal Regional District Chairs hammered out priority areas while discussing a common policy concerning ferries at a Friday meeting in Nanaimo.

The group plans to discuss a policy paper with Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom and Premier Christy Clark at the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in Vancouver.

"When we go to UBCM we want to have a common policy paper, something that we think could be done to improve the situation with the ferries," Comox Valley Regional District chair Edwin Grieve said this week.

Last month, BC Ferries announced plans to cut up to 400 sailings to deal with a $35-million deficit. No cuts are planned for smaller routes such as the Gulf Islands. The corporation is expected to announce further details Sept. 19.

BC Ferries CEO David Hahn says passenger trips have dropped to a 20-year low and vehicle traffic has dropped to an 11-year low. He blames the decrease on rising fuel costs, a slow economy and a strong Canadian dollar. Others blame increased ferry rates.

"It's certainly a catch-22," Grieve said. "What we're trying to do as chairs is to put something positive forward."

The Coastal Regional District Chairs represents 63 per cent of B.C.'s population on the coast, including Metro Vancouver. Group members will present a draft policy before their respective boards before the UBCM convention.

"Just keep moving forward in a positive direction and respectfully, and I think we have a lot better chance of gaining the ear of government," Grieve said, noting the opportunity for local government to offer contrary positions. "The big thing I think is to realize that when there's shiny new bridges in the Lower Mainland they have to be paid for by the province of B.C., from all across it. It's not too much of a stretch to realize the ferry system is like bridges, it's part of the highway system."

BC Ferries Commissioner Gordon Macatee, who is reviewing legislation and the Coast Ferry Act model, is expected to be in Powell River for a public meeting. The chairs hope he also visits the Valley so ferry users can voice their concerns.

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