Some business owners on Hornby Island say their tourism-based businesses are feeling the lack of the regular summer ferry to the island.
Hornby Boat Rentals owner Steve Tovell said Hornby Islanders have plenty to complain about when it comes to BC Ferries, but traffic delays from using the winter ferry during the peak tourist summer season is upsetting people right now.
“The anger over here at the BC Ferries in unbelievable. The campsites have got vacancies — we never have vacancies here this time of year,” said Tovell. “My business is just floundering; the people aren’t coming.”
Normally, the MV Kahloke is used in the summer season and the MV Tenaka is used in the winter, when there is less tourist traffic.
However, this year the Kahloke was taken out of service at the beginning of April for a retrofit. BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall noted the ferry was expected to be back in service on July 6, but the return has been delayed to July 31 because the work is taking longer than expected.
According to Marshall, both ferries hold 30 vehicles, but the Kahloke is an open deck ferry so overheight vehicles, like campers, can be parked anywhere on the deck. The Tenaka can only accommodate overheight vehicles in the centre lane.
Tovell said the difference is noticeable when he takes the ferry.
“You put three vehicles with trailers on it, you only get a few more cars,” he said, adding there’s also problems when vehicles are manoeuvred onto the ferry. “Trying to get the vehicles to go up the side lanes, vehicles are getting dented because they’re trying to squeeze vehicles in a certain way. The one guy (vehicle passenger) said that he had one front wheel up on a curb trying to go where the guy (ferry traffic director) wanted him and a rear one up on the opposite side.”
Marshall said BC Ferries has not heard of vehicles being damaged.
Tovell said he’s been hearing stories about ferry service problems and wait times from his customers, and he said there is an occasional three-sailing wait time to get off the island because traffic is so backed up.
Marshall noted the ferry has been shuttling back and forth in an effort to move traffic as quickly as possible.
“While we have experienced some overload situations this month, the captain and crew operate the vessel in ‘shuttle mode’ to carry the traffic as quickly as possible,” she said. “There has not been any traffic left behind by the end of the operational day. We certainly apologize to any of our valuable customers who may have been inconvenienced by a delay.”
Hornby Island resident Stephen Bishop co-owns Sea Breeze Lodge, a popular tourist destination on the island. He too has noticed tourists unhappy with ferry service to the island.
“It’s taken them like four hours from Buckley Bay to get to Hornby Island,” said Bishop. “I have a feeling in the years to come people aren’t going to be coming to Hornby Island because of that experience, you know, it takes them so long to get here, they’re very uncomfortable, the whole thing, and we’re going to lose business over it for sure.”
Tovell questioned why the ferry went in for a retrofit at the start of April instead of during the winter.
“Planning all of the refits for our 35 vessels can be quite complicated,” said Marshall. “With two other minor vessels (the Quinitsa and the Tachek) having refits in the fall, we didn’t have another three-month window to accommodate the major refit work required for the Kahloke.”
Tovell also said he’s heard that BC Ferries is considering cutting out the first and last sailings on the route next summer, but Marshall said “no decisions have been made regarding service level adjustments” on the minor routes.
She also noted the Province has directed BC Ferries to make service level adjustments to achieve a net savings of $26 million, and the Province will undertake public consultation on the matter.
As for the issue of normal summer ferry being out of service for a refit during peak tourist season, Bishop said it’s a problem, but he noted this just adds annoyance to tourists’ lighter wallets due to increasing ferry fares.