Seniors, families, business-people, environmentalists and municipal counselors brought signs and umbrellas to the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal on Saturday to protest cuts to ferry services and increasing fares. A majority travelled as foot passengers on the 11:30am ferry from Snug Cove and returned on the 2:35 ferry. Protestors stood outside the terminal, in the rain, for most of this time. Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy came to the protest and heard the concerns of some protestors.
“I told Mr. Sturdy, I know I don’t have all the facts, but I just don’t think BC Ferries is a very well-run coroporation,” says protestor Philip Evans. “This is our second go-around with BC Ferries making cuts and raising prices, and they’re running on what seems to me to be a flawed business-model. When you raise the rates you lose business, isn’t there a more creative solution than that?”
Evans says he has secured parking in Horseshoe Bay so that he no longer has to drive on the ferry, and that his wife drives onto the ferry once a week or less.
“My kids are grown and gone so I don’t need to take the ferry as much as I used to, but really, it’s just on principle at this point that I don’t drive over,” says Evans. “Mr. Sturdy mentioned the situation in Washington State, where they have far fewer managers and employees and the rates are much lower, and he said the regulatory situation is different. That may be, but I would like an independent auditor to have a look at the whole situation closely and offer an opinion.”
Evans says he appreciated the chance to air his grievances with Mr. Sturdy, although he didn’t have much to offer in terms of a response.
Jillian Darling told Jordan Sturdy that she is concerned about the hollowing-out of Bowen Island’s community, as a result of the increasing lack of affordability of the ferry service.
“I know four people, all seniors, who’ve moved off-Island since January. They all sight financial concerns and the ferry specifically as reasons for leaving,” says Darling. “Many people think that the seniors living on Bowen are rich, and that may be true for certain enclaves but a lot of us are just getting by. Us seniors are the ones on all the committees and doing all the volunteer work because the younger people who are raising families are breaking their backs just trying to get by.”
Darling says that when she moved to Bowen, in 1993, it cost $11.75 to drive onto the ferry.
“People say you’ve chosen this but, people choose to live in Langley and Surrey as well, and those people only have to pay $3 to drive over a bridge with a price tag on it of more than $2 billion, and those people are driving through New West to avoid it. Our tax dollars are paying for that bridge, and we’re also paying David Hahn’s pension. That’s more than $300 thousand per year, after having paid his salary of $1.3 million per year. The government isn’t addressing these issues. When I spoke with him, Jordan Sturdy didn’t really offer any answers, he just listened, and he talked about how replacing the second story of the Horseshoe Bay Terminal is going to cost 2 million, but to save on that cost they might cut the ferry to Nanaimo.”
Darling says that from a personal standpoint, living on Bowen is becoming increasingly challenging, but she is committed to this community.
“I grew up on a Gabriola Island, cities are unlivable to me,” says Darling. “But there are certainly things I like to do in Vancouver that I don’t do anymore. Having been seriously ill, though, having access to the hospital and cancer centre are not things I can opt out of.”
Melanie Surtees-Mason says she didn’t have a long chat with MLA Sturdy, but she did express her perspective as a newcomer to Bowen and as the mother of young children.
“Of course when we moved here six months ago we considered the cost of the ferry, and that had to balance out with the rent we’re paying which is cheaper than in the city. Now though, we are facing a rate hike of 7.5 percent, and if we had known that was coming, I’m not sure we would have moved here. We would like to commit to Bowen, and we would like to buy a house but not knowing what else is likely to come down the line in terms of fare hikes and service cuts, I’m not sure we can do that.”
Surtees-Mason said that Sturdy spoke at length about the Sea to Sky Gondola, and the possibility of having it extend to Snug Cove.
“I’m not sure how a gondola would help my kids get to soccer practice,” says Surtees-Mason. “When I told Jordan Sturdy that we are extremely creative in the ways we avoid using the ferries, I think that was the first time I saw him stop acting like a spokesperson for the Liberal government and consider ways of better representing his constituents.”
Protest organizer Maureen Nicholson says the group Bowen Island for Ferry Fairness is considering its next steps, and eagerly awaiting any news that might come from a potential meeting between Mayor Jack Adelaar and Transportation Minister Todd Stone. The group is also urging people to sign an online petition that was recently launched by the BC Ferry Coalition.