After BC Ferries cancelled its summer trial for Route 3 amid backlash, another petition popped up calling on the company and province to reinstate priority assured loading for Sunshine Coast residents.
“The following full and part time residents of the Sunshine Coast ask that B.C. Ferries and the Government of B.C. implement Priority Assured Loading with proof of residency, on Sunshine Coast Route 3 on all sailings,” the petition states. “This route is our highway. We have no other choice.”
In an update to the petition’s original wording, petition creator Carole Rubin added that it is not an anti-tourism or anti-visitor petition, but that visitors are travelling to and from the Sunshine Coast in their leisure time, unlike commuters or those travelling for medical purposes.
By May 10, the petition had more than 2,000 signatures since it was posted on Change.org the week before. Rubin, a resident of Garden Bay, told Coast Reporter the petition was created in response to her long-held concerns with the Route 3 service as well as the recent aborted trial. Rubin said she took out specifics about whether full-time or part-time residents should be included.
“My idea is let’s just get this in front of him, and then we can negotiate the details,” Rubin said, referring to the petition she addressed to BC Ferries, Premier John Horgan and Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons.
It’s not the first time the idea of resident priority assured loading has been raised. A similar petition was also started on Change.org in 2016. Last year, Sunshine Coast residents were among those given priority loading on BC Ferries, due to the pandemic, from March until July 31.
On July 30, 2020, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth changed the order’s wording to remove giving priority access to residents of ferry sailing destinations. Another order was added to give priority to individuals travelling for medical purposes if they arrived 30 minutes before a sailing and had both a letter from their medical practitioner for medical assured loading and a completed Travel Assistance Program form.
Diana Mumford, chair for the Southern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC), said priority assured loading for residents “sounds good in theory, but in practice with all of the details, is that really going to work? And who’s making those choices?”
BC Ferries already has assured loading on three other major routes – from Tsawwassen to Victoria, Tsawwassen to Duke Point, and Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay. Tickets for the assured loading card are sold in groups of 10 for $1,650, including the fare for the vehicle and driver.
“On those routes, the regular travel would be $77. So, it’s basically costing you almost $88 to have that assured loading, and I don’t think that is what they’re wanting,” Mumford said. “The issues on Route 3 will not be resolved by merely showing our identification for priority boarding.”
Mumford said there’s no easy fix, since there’s such a diverse user group on the Sunshine Coast, from commuters to medical patients to people visiting family, all with unique needs. Then who qualifies as a resident will have to be defined, and if someone is considered a resident when travelling in both directions. She’s not sure it would work in peak season, and added that commercial ferry users are “vital to our communities.” Then there’s tourists and those using Route 3 as a connector route to and from other communities.
“I just don’t know that that’s going to solve the problem of our ferry and its capacity,” Mumford said. “It’s just going to put people in a different lineup at the ferry terminal.”
As for the FAC, the committee will be meeting on May 16 to discuss where to go from here and who they need to encourage to work on a better solution.
On May 5, the District of Sechelt decided to send a letter to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, asking for service improvements on Route 3. Priority assured loading for residents was not listed in the request.
At the April 30 Sechelt and District Chamber of Commerce meeting, when BC Ferries CEO Mark Collins announced the summer trial for Route 3 was cancelled by the company, Collins was also asked about resident priority loading for the Langdale-Horseshoe Bay service.
During the public meeting, Collins said the issue had been discussed during consultations in 2020, but “it did not emerge from our community consultation as a preferred solution.” He added that it has been traditionally difficult to get a consensus on the option between the businesses and residents.
When asked how people could get resident priority assured loading considered, Collins said there are more formal processes than through consultation with BC Ferries, such as a referendum held by elected representatives.
“We’re willing to be guided by the community on this and if there was a clear consensus on this and everybody was lined up and it was overwhelmingly popular, BC Ferries would absolutely entertain that possibility,” Collins said.