Following last week’s announcement that changes to the Coastal Ferry Act could lead to service reductions, residents and stakeholders on the Coast have been voicing their concerns.
On May 9, Transportation and Infra-structure Minister Blair Lekstrom, alongside ferries CEO Mike Corrigan, announced that a pressing need to reduce costs could result in reductions — especially for sailings already running below 30 per cent utilization.
According to B.C. Ferries’ latest report to the commissioner, the Langdale - Horseshoe Bay route remains one of the highest utilized ferries in the province, with an average of 56.4 per cent across all sailings.
Nevertheless, some trips to and from Langdale could still fall below that 30 per cent mark.
At Earl’s Cove, the story is much different. As one of the least utilized ferries in the province, the average sailing on this route was only 27.5 per cent utilized, despite that ferry making as many as eight round trips daily.
When asked if either route could be on the radar for service reductions, B.C. Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall said the company “doesn’t want to prejudge the process. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure will conduct a public consultation process about ferry service. B.C. Ferries will support the Ministry in their efforts,” she said.
The most recent statistics for the Langdale route showed that usage rates continued to decline. April 2012 traffic declined by as much as two per cent compared to last year, a trend that worried members of the Southern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC).
FAC member Jakob Knaus also reported to local stakeholders that commercial traffic dodging fares continued to be a problem, causing “a painful loss in revenue. This results in our fare revenue well under the cap, in theory allowing [B.C. Ferries] to increase our fares,” Knaus commented in an open letter to local officials and the media.
Barry Cavens, chair of the FAC, was optimistic that communities and ferry users would be given more consideration by the province when deciding the future of the various routes.
“There are commitments for discussions with communities and for government to seek public input to develop long-term strategies,” said Cavens before venturing that “passenger-only and other service improvements may be considered.”
In an effort to reduce fares, the government is planning to increase funding to B.C. Ferries by $79.5 million, more than half of which will be paid up front.
But in no uncertain terms, the province said that “there will be significant adjustments to service levels,” alongside a public consultation process that will involve topics like fare adjustments and possible community contributions.
Long-term strategies to address a system “at considerable risk” were also offered as possible remedies, for instance, implementing new technologies like liquefied natural gas to power some vessels.
“I can see the only economic solution is to perhaps reduce service,” said Sechelt Mayor John Henderson.
But with regards to the Langdale route, Henderson said, “There’s a lot of things we’re doing well. We’re a role model for many other routes in the fleet.”
That cautious optimism was also expressed during the May 15 Gibsons council meeting.
“At least now we have a chance to influence what happens,” suggested Coun. Gerry Tretick.
Powell River - Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons was less optimistic about the announcement.
“The commissioner [Gord Macatee] said fares were at a ‘tipping point’ and has repeatedly said they shouldn’t increase faster than inflation, but we’ll see our fares increase at twice that rate,” he said.
“In fact, the government has given the commissioner the ability to permanently cut services unilaterally with minimal consultation.”
Simons said the NDP planned to bring forward some amendments to the legislation.