Government and BC Ferries say ferry service reductions will go ahead but ferry schedules are still open for discussion.
Kirk Handrahan, executive director, marine branch of the Ministry of Transportation, and BC Ferries director of strategic planning David Hendry told Comox community engagement session attendees they want to hear what ferry users need in terms of scheduling.
“We’ve shown the reductions on existing schedules,” Hendry said at Friday’s small group session. “But, obviously where there’s opportunity, where we can still achieve the same sorts of net savings, we want to hear from the communities as to what are the opportunities for moving some of these sailings around potentially.
“There may be some shown in the morning here that need to stay but there may be other opportunities to achieve some of the savings in the midday, for instance … there may be an opportunity to push some of the schedule later to get some coverage in the late night, even though they are under-utilized.”
The Province’s plan to save $14 million by 2016 via service reductions on lower-use round-trip sailings on minor and northern routes was announced last month. The service reductions are slated to come into effect in April, and government has been holding public open houses in affected communities to gather feedback.
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 an estimated $720,000 by 2016. 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), saving $660,000. 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 $360,000.
Comox session attendees repeatedly brought up the importance of looking at what socio-economic impact ferry service reductions would have on ferry dependent communities. Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser asked if government had studied what the cost of the planned service reductions would be to Gulf Island and Vancouver Island businesses.
“Is that built into the calculations? Or, is it just the cost savings for the corporation that we’re dealing with here?” questioned Fraser. “Because, if that’s the case, we’re working in a vacuum, and we’re not taking into account that this is part of our transportation system; it’s not a luxury. We don’t shut down the Sea to Sky Highway in the summertime if the traffic’s less — these are the concerns that come into my office.”
Handrahan noted this point has consistently been brought up in other community meetings, as he acknowledged no socio-economic impact study had been done.
“I recognize that there is a concern. We recognize that there will be impacts; to sit there and quantify it would be a very difficult process,” he said, adding the community engagement process is designed to provide give government a sense of possible socio-economic impacts.
Denman Island Local Trustee and BC Ferry Advisory Committee member Laura Busheikin said impacts of service reductions would not only affect ferry dependent communities, but also the provincial economy as a whole, via tourism.
“These ferry dependent communities are also communities that are big tourist draws, and they help create an image of B.C. that draws people,” she said, noting her annual family reunion in which people from the U.S. come to Hornby Island for the event but also tour around the province since they made the long trip to Hornby.
“It’s inevitable that these communities are going to lose a lot of their vibrancy and that will be a loss to the economy of all of B.C.”
BC Ferries will collate the feedback collected via community engagement and return in January to speak with local Ferry Advisory Committees more to see how ferry schedules can be revised, with net savings still achieved.
Co-chair of the Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs Tony Law said he spoke on behalf of FACs when he said he is “immensely frustrated” with the “top-down approach” being taken. He pointed out FACs requested that communities be asked how to make coastal ferry service sustainable at the outset. Instead, he said they are being forced into a reactive stance, without enough solid information and resources, and were given a short timeframe to provide feedback.
Service reductions are also 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 to reach the Province’s goal of $18.9 million in overall savings via service reductions by 2016.
Reductions to the senior passenger fare discount, a gaming pilot project, vessel standardization, and the possibility of switching to liquified natural gas are among other plans to make coastal ferry service sustainable.
For more information, and to provide feedback on the plan visit www.coastalferriesengagement.ca.