The public will have a chance later this year to respond to plans for cutting costs on BC Ferries, but the chair of the southern Sunshine Coast ferry advisory committee wants to see a community needs assessment first.
“The way I read it, they’re going to consult with the people after BC Ferries and the government decide what is appropriate,” Barry Cavens said in an Aug. 21 interview. “I think we as a community should decide what we want first.”
Last week the provincial government issued a request for proposals (RFP), inviting consultants to bid on a contract that would include developing “a route-specific ferry adjustment plan to ensure the sustainability of the ferry system.”
Public consultation on the new plan is expected to take place in November and December, as the province attempts to realize $19 million in cost savings by 2016.
Cavens said the RFP “seems to be referring to the sustainability of BC Ferries and the government,” not the communities being served by BC Ferries’ 25 routes.
“What we need is a needs assessment to see what we need in terms of service on the Sunshine Coast — in order to make the Sunshine Coast sustainable,” he said.
The RFP follows last year’s $1-million public consultation process, and Cavens noted that it was “inferred” by government officials at the packed meetings in Gibsons that low-volume sailings such as the first Sunday morning run and some night runs could be on the chopping block.
“We have to ask who’s on those sailings,” Cavens said “Are they people going to work? It’s more than just the numbers. It’s how it affects the community if those needs aren’t met.”
While the community did speak loud and clear during last year’s consultations, Cavens said that after reading the RFP he is not confident the concerns raised will be reflected in the service adjustment plan.
“As a community we have to ask, ‘What do we need?’” he said. “Maybe we need smaller boats going every hour. Is there a better model in the long term?”
Cavens said he intends to bring the issue to the table at next month’s regional transportation advisory committee meeting, “and see if there’s a desire amongst the community to put something together as a document to have the government look at as part of the consultation process.”
The timing is critical, he added.
“If we don’t have something for this round of consultation, we’re going to be locked into something for the next 10 or 20 years. If we don’t have that discussion, what’s the impact going to be?” he said.
Apart from smaller vessels, another idea that was suggested during the Gibsons meetings was augmenting the current ferry service with one small vessel for foot passengers only.
“Those are the kinds of things we need to hear from people,” Cavens said. “I think we need a fresh look at what is required. This is one opportunity.”
A submission from the community will also remind the province that BC Ferries is providing a vital service to the Coast, he said. “It sends out a message that we care about our ferry service, and as a region we want to have as much say as possible in any changes to it.”
The deadline for bids is Aug. 27, and the implementation date for service adjustments is March 2014.