Islanders voice frustrations at ferry consultation meeting
The B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has a delegation travelling around the province to conduct a dialogue with BC Ferries-served communities and it was Bowen’s turn Wednesday, November 28. The meeting, the ministry called it “Consultation and Engagement” session, took place in the band room at BICS.
The content did not seem music to islanders’ ears, however, as a primary purpose of the four officials - led by assistant deputy minister Kevin Richter and BC Ferries director of strategic planning David Hendry – was to seek feedback around strategies for trimming $26 million from the ferries operating budget.
Also on hand was Lynda Petruzzi from the ministry and Peter Simpson, Director of Operational Strategy for B.C. Ferries. About 40 islanders attended, including members of council and Adam Holbrook, the chair of Bowen’s ferry advisory committee.
The gathering began with islanders invited to peruse four stations set-up around the room, each with graphs and display boards. The focus of the displays and the dialogue the ministry sought to engage riders with was on the savings of $26 million to the year 2016, and on what B.C. Ferries calls the connecting of B.C.’s coastal communities “in an affordable, efficient and sustainable manner in the long-term.”
After the informal talk, the four officials took places at the front of the room for the question and answer period, moderated by Nancy Spooner of Nancy Spooner Consulting Inc. Specific issues islanders were invited to provide feedback on included the basic level of service required, ferry staffing, the utilization of ferries and how routes are performing and their financial models.
Many islanders who turned up were more intent on expressing frustrations with escalating ticket prices and service shortfalls than suggesting ideas for trimming operating costs. Among other issues, islanders noted Bowen has more overloads than any other route (some 1,000 yearly), that there’s no coordination between Horseshoe Bay transit and the ferries and that when the Bowen Queen replaces the Queen of Capilano during the refit, there is a dramatic increase in overloads and longer waits.
Richter and Hendry consistently welcomed comments and repeatedly reminded commentators to write their remarks into the feedback forms provided. “This is your chance to inform government,” Richter said. “The government wants to hear from you.”
He said comments from this process could become part of a report for the ministry that is scheduled to be completed by February. The ministry is making no commitments to specific action surrounding recommendations and has set no timetable to respond to the report.
An islander asked if Bowen would get a larger vessel should it achieve two-lane loading. Simpson said that there was no such plan and that at this time B.C. Ferries has no intentions of providing a larger vessel for Bowen Island, regardless of any change to the loading capabilities of Snug Cove.
The decision to engage the ferry communities comes following a similar process by B.C. Ferries commissioner Gordon Macatee and asst. deputy commissioner Sheldon Stoilen in 2011. Those visits were to gather feedback from the ridership and present it to government; the ministry said that in part it was information in Macatee’s report that led to the current visits with ferry communities.
B.C. Ferries was formerly a Crown corporation but with the passage of 2003’s Coastal Ferry Act it became a private corporation with a stated view of keeping fares low and supporting island tourism, economies and lifestyles. Since that time, fares have risen by as much as 125 per cent on some routes, ridership is down throughout the system and island economies are experiencing declines not seen in non-ferry-dependent communities.
The consultation and engagement tour began on November 6 and by the time it is completed on December 8, the ministry will have visited over 30 ferry-served communities. For more information and to submit feedback, see coastalferriesengagement.ca.
The deadline for feedback is December 21st.