The province might want to look at ways of saving $26 million from B.C. Ferries, but that doesn't mean ferry users have to go along with the program, said Stephanie Clarke of Ferryhostage.com.
With the Dec. 1 public consultation session for the Sunshine Coast approaching, Clarke said her web survey results have uncovered some key issues. "The most obvious one is that we're not looking at ferry service as part of the highway transportation system. The provincial government is not looking at the transportation system overall," Clarke said. "That's one whole argument that's getting avoided, and unfortunately, it's pitting B.C. residents against each other, which I think is just shameful."
The coastal ferry service is subsidized at a rate of only 15 per cent, compared to 65 per cent for BC Transit and 50 per cent for TransLink. But instead of looking at the entire spectrum of issues surrounding rising costs, Clarke said, the province opted to focus its public consultation on how it can save $26 million on top of $4 million in projected savings.
"As if we all endorsed this $26-million savings, which we didn't. We're all supposed to adopt that mandate, like sheep," she said.
Clarke's online survey of just under 300 ferry users on the Sunshine Coast found that 73 per cent of respondents wanted the ferry service to be recognized as an "essential roadway," while another 23 per cent said the issue warranted a review.
"As long as we don't push that transportation policies are inadequate, we're falling into this direction they're trying to push us in -that because we live in a beautiful place, we have to be penalized," Clarke said.
One impetus for Ferryhostage.com to conduct online surveys was a B.C. Ferries customer survey in June that reported an 88 per cent satisfaction level. In its own survey of 266 passengers, Ferryhostage.com found only 24 per cent were somewhat or very satisfied, while 58 per cent were somewhat or very unsatisfied.
While the number of survey responses was disappointing for the group, Clarke said it was a start.
"It shows we need a place to gather our own data, because it's not being represented properly," she said.
For the Dec. 1 consultation, Clarke has signed up for the stakeholders' session that will be followed by an open public session from 1 to 4 p.m. at Cedars Inn in Gibsons.
She said she fears the process "is just a stall till the next election" and also questions whether the venue will be large enough to hold the size of crowd that comes out.
"The stereotype of people who don't live in coastal communities is that they think we are elitist or rich or American. For communities that have to deal with declining economies, it's infuriating," she said.
Most Coast residents surveyed believe the ferry service is directly tied to local economic conditions, and Clarke said a foot-passenger ferry to downtown Vancouver is one example of how the system could hugely benefit the region.
"That in itself alone would be an incredible boost for our economy. It would push things in a positive direction," she said.
Clarke said she isn't optimistic that the province will get the message this time around, however. "I think when the hammer comes down and it gets worse, then people are going to react. But unfortunately, there's going to be a lot of pain," she said.
© Coast Reporter