UPDATED: SCRD endorses BC Ferries Route 3 trial

Bookings under the new system will be available for sailings beginning in the third week of June, according to a BC Ferries official. The trial will last until after Thanksgiving.

It’s full speed ahead for BC Ferries’ summer trial for the Langdale route serving the Sunshine Coast, although some residents have created a petition to ask local government to slam the brakes on the plan.

At the April 22 Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) board meeting, directors voted unanimously to endorse the proposed trial that will see a 95 per cent reservation capacity onboard Route 3.

In a presentation to the board, BC Ferries’ Brian Anderson said the trial, if endorsed, would officially be announced with more details toward the end of May, with bookings under the new system available for sailings beginning in the third week of June. The trial will last until after Thanksgiving and then BC Ferries will assess how it worked and look at feedback and results, Anderson said.

The trial will include free reservations and non-reserved vehicle fares will be paid going in both directions from Langdale and Horseshoe Bay. Customers will be able to reserve up to 45 minutes before sailing, pending availability. The remaining five per cent of reservation capacity will be saved for priority emergency vehicles and those travelling with the Medical Assured Loading program.

The District of Sechelt and Town of Gibsons councils had already seen the presentation at in-camera meetings, on April 14 and April 20, respectively. District of Sechelt staff told Coast Reporter via email that the meeting was closed by request of BC Ferries under section 90 (j) of the Community Charter, which includes information that would be prohibited under section 21 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The resolutions made during the closed meetings will be included in upcoming agendas.

At the SCRD’s April 22 meeting, Gibsons director Bill Beamish said Gibsons council resolved to support the proposal for Route 3, and council asked BC Ferries to consider improvement to the 10-minute cutoff at Horseshoe Bay, and make the overflow parking area at Langdale terminal free for passenger use. Anderson said BC Ferries has committed to explore those options and report back.

Beamish also asked how BC Ferries plans to address an increase in call volume. Anderson said BC Ferries already ramps up support staff during peak seasons, and bookings can also be made online or at the terminal. BC Ferries is also exploring the option of a third party assisting with calls. During the trial, he added, BC Ferries will prioritize the calls for the region.

Sechelt director Alton Toth said Sechelt council had discussed the 95 per cent reservation section being too high. It’s conceivable that passengers could get stuck and unable to travel, Toth said. He added concerns about accessibility to booking for seniors.

The 95 per cent was chosen by BC Ferries, Anderson said, after reviewing a year’s worth of historical data on the number of emergency vehicles and people travelling with Medical Assured Loading (MAL) letters. Of all the sailings, there was only one instance of 15 emergency and MAL vehicles on a sailing.

“We feel confident that that number is a good working number to begin with, but we will keep our eye on that and if we see any changes, we can look to see if that needs to be addressed,” Anderson said, adding that BC Ferries hopes to incentivize carpooling and foot passengers to alleviate the space crunch on the vehicle deck.

Elphinstone director Donna McMahon asked how the trial will affect commercial vehicles. Anderson said commercial vehicles currently compete for the same space as other vehicles, and BC Ferries will incentivize commercial vehicles to spread out travel throughout the day.

As for concerns about the impact on traffic at the bypass, Anderson said, “Ideally we’re not going to have more people show up for a ferry than can fit on a ferry, eliminating the need to queue up for hours outside of the ferry terminal,” adding that BC Ferries will consider bringing vehicles into the terminal and screen within the compound.

Asked if BC Ferries is considering a mobile app for making reservations, Anderson said the company is doing preliminary work on an app but it will not be ready for the trial.

Roberts Creek director Andreas Tize said he thinks the trial is a great idea, and McMahon said she welcomes the opportunity to try something different.

“As they’ve said before, the definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and again and expect different results, and that’s kind of how I feel about what we’ve been doing with the ferries. So time to give it a great try,” McMahon said.

Thanking Anderson for the presentation, Halfmoon Bay director Lori Pratt said, “As you said, be bold. Sometimes you need to be bold to make something happen, so let’s see how this works.”

“The planning ramps into full gear right now,” Anderson said once the proposal received unanimous support from directors.

After the support from the SCRD was announced, some Sunshine Coast residents expressed their displeasure on social media. An online petition called “Stop BC Ferries and the SCRD from running roughshot [sic] over Sunshine Coast residents” was launched by Gibsons resident Glenda Sewards, and had more than 2,000 signatures by mid-day Friday. The petition cites concerns including reservations being required in both directions, traffic at the Langdale terminal and travel for medical purposes.

“We the people of the Sunshine Coast are demanding that this plan be stopped immediately until proper public consultation takes place with the residents of the Sunshine Coast,” the petition reads.

In a statement after the SCRD’s decision, BC Ferries thanked the SCRD for its support.

“We will ensure the community is well informed about changes to their travel experience prior to the start of the trial. Over the coming weeks, we will share more details about the trial and specifics about how it will work, and the changes customers will need to make in the way they plan their travel on the Horseshoe Bay – Langdale route this summer,” BC Ferries said in a statement.

More information about the details of the trial will be made available before it begins.

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