Priority boarding for Coasters travelling on BC Ferries’ (BCF) Route 3 was the top theme identified by the 83 people who attended the company’s community drop-in session in Sechelt on Nov. 23. That is according to BCF’s summary of the event recently posted on its website.
But that change is not something BCF can do on its own. It stated in its summary document, “Resident priority is a public policy decision which requires provincial involvement. The idea of resident priority is with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) for consideration and we are waiting for direction on whether they are interested in shaping such a policy and what such a policy would mean and contain.”
MOTI spokesperson Murrary SInclair told Coast Reporter by email "the potential of permitting resident priority loading requires a thorough review by the ministry and extensive input and coordination with BC Ferries. That work will get underway in the new year."
Astrid Chang from BCF's corporate communications unit said the corporation "will provide an update to the community when more information is available” from the province on this issue.
The Nov. 23 event was part of an engagement process that included an online comment opportunity where the issue of local priority on Route 3 also made the top three concerns raised.
'Ferry service is for everyone'
“The Ferry Advisory Committees (FAC) Chairs group spoke with Minister [of Transportation and Infrastructure] Rob Fleming in August 2021 and he stated that the ferry service is for everyone and seemed reluctant to give priority to only some ferry users,” the chairperson of the Southern Sunshine Coast FAC, Diana Mumford told Coast Reporter via email.
Given those comments, Mumford said she would like to see BCF focus on improving things like on-time performance and reducing overloads on the Langdale/Horseshoe Bay sailings. Her view is that while “resident priority is a regular request for Coast residents, I suspect that if we had a well functioning, frequent ferry service for everyone, this would not be necessary.”
More Route 3 sailings in 2023?
The top subject addressed on online postings was “more sailings” and that was the second most mentioned concern at the in-person event.
BCF’s response stated that Route 3 will see more sailing starting in spring 2023 and that a supplementary vessel will be on the route for at least a portion of the sailing day come next summer.
But a response to calls to have two ships permanently assigned to Route 3 is not mentioned in BCF’s meeting summary.
Mumford said this is another area that requires the attention of both BCF and the province. “Another ship for our route is not in the BC Ferry Commission for Performance Term 6 (PT6) submission until 2029. Since 2003 our population on the Coast has increased by about 16 per cent, but the B.C. Coastal Ferry Services contract has not been improved in that same time period. In fact, the minimum number of sailings required by the government for BCF to provide has decreased 40 round trip sailings per year in the contract. BCF has provided more sailings than the minimum since 2003, but the government has not acknowledged or improved these contracts to provide the ferry service that communities need all along the provincial coast,” she stated.
BCF will update its Southern Sunshine Coast community webpage with details on how the PT6 submission is progressing, according to Chang. Included will be the Commissioner’s preliminary ruling in March and her final ruling in September 2023.
Making sailing waits more comfortable
Another key concern raised by local BCF customers during the engagement was improvements to amenities for travellers, especially those lined up outside the terminals.
Chang noted that improvements to amenities on the property owned and controlled by BC Ferries were in effect this year. At the Horseshoe Bay terminal, those included porta-potties, misting stations, water refill stations and staff handing out water during times of extreme heat during the past summer. Water, misting stations and a doggie pool were also made available on the Langdale side.
She noted that this is another issue where cooperation with MOTI is being sought. As the ferry lineups for Route 3 terminals can extend into active highway areas, she acknowledged that traffic safety concerns make placement of amenities challenging.
“The section of road before the ticket booth (the pre-ticketing area) where people wait during times of peak congestion belongs to MOTI and our operations team are working with MOTI to explore the potential to place amenities along this stretch.”
BCF’s communications with its clients was cited as an area in need of attention by those who commented both online and in person.
“We continue to work on communications improvements including the launch of a mobile application that should make booking and planning travel much easier. We will continue to update the community as we complete BETA testing and move towards a formal launch,” Chang stated.
As for making current details on issues like delayed and cancelled sailing available at terminals and via the BC Ferries website, BCF stated, “Updates are expected to take place prior to the next summer season.”
Responding to calls for more immediate updates by texts, BCF’s summary document stated, “SMS [text] messaging has been identified as a future consideration but at this time is not in the immediate plan.”
BCF says it is planning another in-person event on the Coast in spring 2023. In the meantime, they will be posting updates related to the concerns heard on its Southern Sunshine Coast Community webpage. That is also where the full community feedback documents, including the latest session presentation boards are posted.