I’m writing to address concerns that have been raised by some regarding our intentions to provide ferry service between Buckley Bay and Denman Island with a cable ferry.
As president and CEO, I fully endorse and support this project. I am confident that the proposed cable ferry will continue to allow BC Ferries to provide the same level of service as our current ferry, while still allowing us to maintain our high standard of safety.
I, as well as my team, have been working on this project for close to four years and engaged some of the best engineering and naval architectural firms in the world to ensure that we have conducted a thorough review of all areas (cable type/sizing/securing arrangements, vessel design/passenger comfort, terminal design, wind/wave/tide conditions).
In fact, most likely we have done more “due diligence” regarding this cable ferry project than was done on the other 65 cable ferries currently operating in Canada combined.
In my former executive positions at BC Ferries, I oversaw the successful introduction of approximately $2 billion in capital projects over the last 10 years including the successful introduction of the largest double ended ferries in the world (Coastal Class) as well as the largest floating ferry berth in the world (Berth 2 at Swartz Bay).
Although both these projects were considered to be “leading edge” (not bleeding edge) at the time, they ultimately proved successful because of the comprehensive design and engineering work done upfront including simulation testing.
The cable ferry project has followed a similar process even though it would be hard to argue that based on the number of cable ferries operating through out the world (some going back hundreds of years if not longer) that the technology could be considered “leading edge.”
I understand that even if we were to gain support from cable ferry critics regarding the technical issues, it is still difficult for the communities of Denman and Hornby islands to understand how we can take away the Quinitsa and replace it with a cable ferry when everything is working just fine now.
The answer is one that unfortunately I don’t think people of the two communities may ever accept. We are replacing the Quinitsa with a cable ferry because we honestly believe that we can provide an equivalent level of service from a safety and reliability standpoint for considerably less costs (approximately $2 million per year – equally split between labour savings and fuel/maintenance savings).
This equates to a savings of $80 million over the 40-year life of the cable ferry. We can then redeploy the Quinitsa as a refit relief vessel on a number of routes across our system so that we can retire another vessel without replacement.
The $2 million we save annually operating the cable ferry versus the traditional ferry will help keep fares across the system as low as possible.
Unfortunately, the direct benefits of $2 million in savings per year cannot go solely to lower fares on the Denman ferry route since legislation and regulation is intended to spread the benefits and costs of capital decisions across the entire ferry system.
There are pluses and minuses with this type of regulation. Overall, for the minor routes, I would suggest that there are more pluses than minuses, since the high revenue generating major routes can be used to subsidize costs and keep fares down on the minor routes. Also, the extreme effects of multi-million dollar refit and capital upgrade projects on minor routes get spread across the system and are not allocated to a singe route for fare recovery.
From a safety standpoint, I have also heard from community members and our union regarding the proposed crewing levels for the cable ferry. We expect to operate the cable ferry with three crew members.
However, Transport Canada may determine a different crew size than three. We have said publicly that if Transport Canada’s crew size is less than three we will commit to a crew of three. Likewise, if Transport Canada’s crewing level is more than three we are required by law to crew at that level.
With all this being said, it is important to note from our research that none of the 65 cable ferries in Canada operate with more than two crew. Additionally, BC Ferries’ crew operating our cable ferry will be trained to a much higher standard then that of other cable ferry operators in Canada.
Since the cable ferry will be crewed with less crew than the Quinitsa, we have addressed potential safety concerns regarding the requirement to fight a fire by adding modern fire suppression technology such as a hi-fog water mist system and remote fire monitors through-out the cable ferry. Both these systems can be deployed instantaneously from the operating station on the car deck.
We have also equipped the cable ferry with a rescue craft for any potential man-overboard incidents.
Editor’s note: This letter was shortened due to print space restrictions. To see the full letter, visit www.comoxvalleyrecord.com.