While organizers were preparing for a major ferry protest in Victoria this Tuesday, the head of the southern Sunshine Coast ferry advisory committee (FAC) was optimistic the first Sunday sailing could be salvaged when service cuts take effect next month.
"I think we've got a solution that works," Route 3 FAC chair Barry Cavens told the Sunshine Coast transportation advisory committee on March 3. "I think this is the best we're going to get."
Cavens said BC Ferries officials met with Route 3 stakeholders in Gibsons on Feb. 27 to discuss possible options for the off-peak Sunday sailing schedule that would still save about $100,000 a year, as mandated by the province.
Rather than cut the 6:20 a.m. round trip from Langdale to Horseshoe Bay, the group recommended the first sailings be retained and that mid-morning and early-afternoon schedules be adjusted so that one round trip is eliminated.
BC Ferries will review connection times with the Earls Cove route and ferry traffic at the Horseshoe Bay terminal before deciding on the new Route 3 Sunday schedule, to be announced at the end of the month, Cavens said.
The new off-peak schedule will commence April 28 and end in late June, starting up again after Labour Day.
While the province estimated that cutting the first round trip Sunday would save $21,000 in labour and $77,000 in fuel, Langdale terminal operations manager Maureen Darragh confirmed at the committee meeting that only savings in fuel would be realized, while BC Ferries was "going to lose money by not selling food," she added.
Meanwhile, plans are going full steam ahead to stage a major protest on the legislature lawn this Tuesday, March 11.
BC Ferry Coalition organizer Ric Bills said a "huge variety of speakers" had been lined up for the rally, which is set to run from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
They include First Nation and local government leaders, MLAs, business people and ordinary residents of coastal communities who have felt the effects of high fares and service cuts.
"We're going to give the government the message," Bills said.
A convoy of vehicles is expected to descend on the capital for the event.
"Right now, Quadra Island is bringing two buses, Gabriola Island is bringing three buses, people are coming down by car from Campbell River and Nanaimo," he said.
The Lower Sunshine Coast contingent has one bus available to pick up passengers at Horseshoe Bay, connecting with the 6:20 a.m. sailing from Langdale. While Powell River residents cannot make the trip on the same day, some coalition members south of Earls Cove have offered to house them overnight, Bills said.
Tuesday's rally will be followed by local rallies in coastal communities next Saturday, March 15, with three scheduled for the Lower Sunshine Coast -at Highway 101 and Pratt Road in Gibsons, in front of the Raven's Cry Theatre in Sechelt, and in the IGA parking lot at Madeira Park.
The rallies will run from noon to 1 p.m. and will be "a final shout-out" on the ferry issue, Bills said.
The coalition is calling for the B.C. government to stop planned service cuts, reduce fares by 30 per cent, and restructure BC Ferries as a Crown corporation.
"The economics of it will benefit the whole province," Bills said. "I've never seen anything where they raise the price and expect more people to come."
See bcferrycoalition.com for more information or to reserve a bus seat for Tuesday's rally in Victoria.
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