Announced ferry cutbacks concern Denman islanders

Some Denman Island residents worry the planned BC Ferries service reductions will hurt commuters, students and local business.

ISLANDERS MIGHT HAVE to arrange other methods of transportation if BC Ferries follows through on service cuts it announced Monday.

Some Denman Island residents worry the planned BC Ferries service reductions to lower-use round-trip sailings will hurt commuters, students and local business.

The Province announced Monday plans for service reductions on most minor and northern ferry routes, effective in April. Local ferry routes, connecting Denman Island, Hornby Island and Powell River to Vancouver Island, are among those routes selected for service reductions.

The Buckley Bay to Denman Island route, for example, is slated to lose three round-trip sailings per day — the 6:40 a.m., and the 9:40 and 10:40 p.m. sailings from Denman — during the off-peak season, (start of September to end of June). This means the earliest ferry off the island would be the 7:40 a.m. and the latest ferry onto the island would be 8:30 p.m., rather than 11 p.m.

Denman resident Bill Engleson is concerned about how the changes could affect commuters.

“If we lose ferry service at 6:40 a.m. for example, a significant number of commuters will be impacted,” says Engleson. “If the last ferry to Denman leaves Buckley Bay at 8:30 p.m., youth and shift workers, not to mention travellers of all kinds, will be hugely affected.”

Meanwhile, Denman resident Elaine Head says her and her husband Steven Carballeira’s business H2O Environmental Ltd. would be negatively impacted by the changes. Carballeira is a hydrologist and they travel all over Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, the Sunshine Coast and the Lower Mainland on a regular basis.

“We ride lots of ferries,” says Head. “It’s not uncommon to have a six-ferry day, and we have the occasional eight-ferry day. So, we depend heavily on the ferries, and in order to get to all the places we need to be in a day, we pretty much need to be off here (Denman Island) at 6:40 in the morning.

“Coming back from the Sunshine Coast often puts us back on one of the late ferries, coming back from Vancouver certainly puts us on one of the late ferries if we’ve been over there working — which means we won’t be able to get home,” she continues, noting they will either not be able to do as many jobs in a day or they will have to find somewhere to stay off island more often when they travel.

Head also says the ferry to Denman Island becomes busier due to summer tourist traffic in May, not the end of June, as the Province’s plan lists as the start of the peak season.

Lynda Dabbs, a single parent living on Denman, says the planned service reductions will affect Grade 8 to 12 students taking extracurricular activities at their Comox Valley schools.

Her son and two other Grade 10 jazz band students catch the 6:40 a.m. ferry each Tuesday and Thursday so they can make it to school in time for their course at 7:30 a.m.

“With the planned service cuts, these kids will be unable to complete the last three months, (reductions effective April), of their year-long for-credit jazz band class,” says Dabbs, adding these kids also take band class, which includes mandatory evening concerts. Most of these concerts start at 7 p.m., she says, making it difficult if not impossible to catch the 8:30 p.m. ferry home after.

“The impact on the students attending classes in town is extreme,” she says. “Both my children attend school in town and both will experience significant negative impact from the cut in sailings.”

• • •

Planned BC Ferries service reductions to lower-use round-trip sailings mean the Buckley Bay to Denman Island route is slated to lose 888 of its yearly 6,149 round trips, (14.4-per-cent service reduction).

That would save an estimated $660,000 by 2016, according to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

The Denman Island to Hornby Island route is slated to lose 422 of its yearly 4,482 round trips, (9.4 per-cent-reduction), saving an estimated $360,000 by 2016. The Comox to Powell River route is slated to lose 94 of its yearly 1,460 round trips, (6.4-per-cent reduction of service), saving $720,000 by 2016.

The Province’s goal for savings via service reductions is $18.9 million by 2016. The planned service reductions to minor and northern B.C. Ferries routes are expected to save $14 million. Further service reductions are planned for the major routes before April, 2016, (Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay, Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, Tsawwassen to Duke Point), which are expected to save $4.9 million.

As well, seniors, (65 and older), receiving free rides as passengers Monday to Thursday will need to pay 50 per cent of regular fares as of April 1, 2014 on major and minor routes. This change is expected to save $6 million per year.

The Province will also consider introducing gaming on the major routes between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland to generate revenue.

Community engagement starts this week, giving a chance for the public to comment on the planned changes. Details of this engagement are available at www.coastalferriesengagement.ca.

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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