The chair of the local ferry advisory committee (FAC) is concerned the recently announced consultation on ferry service by the provincial government is confusing and lacking key information for local residents to make an informed decision.
"I'm concerned that the average person's going to struggle through it, trying to look at all the charts and questions before they go to a meeting," said Southern Sunshine Coast FAC chair Barry Cavens. "And when I look at some of the questions, they're very general, high level questions, and they don't get into some of the issues that are needed in order to make a completely informed decision."
FAC chairs publicly questioned the consultation process Oct. 30 with a news release that said the plan is "confusing, rushed and missing key parts of the picture."
The province unveiled their new plan for consultation on Oct. 29 with a press conference that included a technical briefing on the discussion guide and feedback form and accompanying appendix they're asking people to digest.
British Columbians are to read the documents and then provide feedback on both the immediate challenge to find $30 million in savings by 2016 and creating a long-term sustainable vision for B.C. Ferries. Coastal communities directly affected will also benefit from scheduled open houses with members of the engagement team.
B.C. Ferries has been wrestling with cost pressures for more than 20 years, which triggered a B.C. ferry commissioner report earlier this year. In the report, the commissioner instructed government to work with the corporation to ensure a sustainable coastal ferry service.
Now they're asking the public for input.
"We have put some ideas on the table and are looking for innovative ideas from British Columbians," said Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Mary Polak during the press conference. "However, some tough decisions need to be made to meet the current challenges."
One of those tough decisions will be to reduce sailings to save money and Cavens is concerned the information provided may lead some to believe specific Sunshine Coast sailings could be lost.
Colour-coded charts show very low ridership on the last sailings of the day on the Langdale to Horseshoe Bay route, for example, which could look like a good place to cut for most British Columbians.
"But those charts are based on cars, and there are many people who walk on now," Cavens said, noting higher fares seem to be driving the trend. "So we have to be careful when we look at things like this chart and it has to be in context."
Despite his concerns, he hopes residents will come to the scheduled consultation meeting on Dec. 1 at the Cedars Inn in Gibsons from 1 to 4 p.m. to discuss the information and ask questions publicly.
"I think it's important that we as residents and organizations and government get involved in this process because I think it will form the basis for some of the decisions that are going to be made in the future," Cavens said. "People should bring up their issues, their concerns, and listen because it will effect the long-term vision and I don't know whether we're going to get many more opportunities to provide this kind of input to the government."
Cavens suggests locals pick up a copy of the discussion guide and feedback form before coming to the meeting, in order to read through the information and come with questions in mind. Copies of the guide and feedback form are available at http://coastalferriesengagement.ca, by phoning 1-855-387-7882 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Copies will also be sent to libraries, municipal offices and Band offices for public pick-up and will be available at open houses.
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