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SCRD asks BC Ferries to consider public feedback after endorsing trial

Board response to outcry from Sunshine Coast residents
The Sunshine Coast Regional District is asking BC Ferries to consider the public’s response to a trial on Route 3 that will introduce 95 per cent reservation capacity and free reservations this summer. File photo.

After public outcry from Sunshine Coast residents learning of BC Ferries’ upcoming summer trial, the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) is asking the company to consider the public’s response. BC Ferries said the trial is going ahead.

Within 24 hours of giving unanimous support to a trial that would bring 95 per cent reservation capacity and free reservations to Route 3 this summer, the SCRD board released a statement that BC Ferries’ trial is not an SCRD decision nor did the company require endorsement from the SCRD to go ahead.

The April 23 statement says the SCRD, “Town of Gibsons and District of Sechelt are asking for immediate action from BC Ferries to ensure feedback provided from the community in the past 24-hours is taken into consideration. As this trial period continues, the SCRD Board expects continued consultation and updates from BC Ferries.”

That feedback came in the form of many comments on social media and a petition from Sunshine Coast residents that had reached more than 2,000 signatures before SCRD made its statement calling for consideration of community feedback.

One such comment, from Brad Palm on Facebook, reads: “As one who rides this ferry to get to work and back, I loathe this idea. Consider this: on the day reservations are released, I will spend hours and hundreds of dollars to book and prepay for every trip to and from work all summer. How many sailings will I actually get that line up with my work schedule? Now imagine my work schedule changes (it frequently does) after I have done all this, or I end up working late and can’t make my sailing. I am charged a penalty and have no hope of a standby trip. For the occasional planned trip (ie tourists), maybe it’s better, but for commuters, it’s a disaster.”

BC Ferries executive director of public affairs Deborah Marshall told Coast Reporter in an email following the SCRD’s statement that the trial is going ahead.

“After consultation with Ferry Advisory Committees, key stakeholders, the District of Sechelt, Town of Gibsons and the Sunshine Coast Regional District, BC Ferries has decided to move forward with a trial program to provide travel certainty, reduce stress and improve our customers’ experience on the Sunshine Coast this summer. We are now finalizing the trial’s details and implementation dates,” Marshall said.

“We will ensure the community is well informed about changes to their travel experience this summer. Background information on how the trial will work and the changes that will be required in the way that Sunshine Coast residents and visitors plan for travel are available at”

SCRD board chair Lori Pratt told Coast Reporter on Friday that the public feels “blindsided” by the trial, and the SCRD has heard from residents that they are confused about how the trial will impact them and demands for more information. Pratt said the board has since been in contact with BC Ferries “to ensure that they are proactive with additional information about this project … to make sure that a lot of the information including the initial feedback from public be taken into consideration moving forward.”

What BC Ferries does with feedback is up to them, Pratt said. She acknowledged the previous public consultation BC Ferries has undertaken specifically in regards to Route 3 in the past few years. She said it’s been clear that another boat will not be added to the route.

“They are doing an incredible amount of work. And we just want to make sure that they’re aware about the feedback and that they’re listening to that as well,” Pratt said.

It’s worth it to try something different, Pratt said, adding, “It is a big change for everyone and we hope it goes forward smoothly, but I think it’s important to note that we have a lot of challenges on our route… This is an innovative change and change is never easy.”

While the SCRD’s statement said other local governments – the Town of Gibsons and District of Sechelt – also gave the trial endorsement, BC Ferries presented to those councils at in-camera meetings. In accordance with local government process, resolutions from the District of Sechelt meeting won’t be made public until its next agenda is posted. The resolution from the Town of Gibsons in-camera meeting is “that the proposal by BC Ferries be supported for a trial project to provide travel certainty in 2021 on Route 3; and that BC Ferries agree to consider improvements to the 10-minute cut off at Horseshoe Bay and to increase parking at the Langdale terminal utilizing the overflow parking area during the trial period,” acting chief administration officer for the Town of Gibsons, Dave Newman, told Coast Reporter via email.

BC Ferries asked the SCRD for formal endorsement of the trial at the April 22 meeting. In the agenda, the BC Ferries presentation stated, “BC Ferries is asking the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) to endorse a trial project this peak summer season that may improve the way people travel between Horseshoe Bay and Langdale on the Sunshine Coast. Should we receive this endorsement, BC Ferries would begin this peak summer season.”

In the presentation to the SCRD on April 22, BC Ferries’ Brian Anderson said the company will be collecting customer feedback during the trial.