“Little to no change.” That was the Route 3 (Langdale/Horseshoe Bay) service summation by the Southern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee (SSCFAC) chairperson after the release of BC Ferries (BCF) annual report to March 31.
With BCF’s annual general meeting addressing that report and other matters set for Aug. 24, Coast Reporter sought comments from the SSCFAC lead Diana Mumford.
Route 3 'the forgotten one'
“We have basically the same service contract now that we had in 2003, in fact, the minimum number of sailings has dropped. The service is just not meeting the needs of our residents. Route 3 seems to have become the forgotten one …We have a ferry that is a pinch point in the lives of Coast residents,” she stated in an Aug. 14 interview.
As she prepares for a slate of meetings in advance of this year’s AGM, Mumford’s concerned about what’s on Route 3’s horizon. She remarked that “the Coast has seen significant population growth but the impacts of that were not addressed in BCF’s performance term 6 (April 2024 to March 2028) submission.” That document does not speak to the assignment of two ships to Route 3 on a permanent basis within that term.
Also troubling is what Mumford called the “disappearance” of plans for enhancement of the Langdale terminal in BCF‘s most recent 12-year capital plan. She said that while $17 million in federal funding was provided in 2017 for “finalization of the re-development process,” that initiative seems to have “dropped off their radar." In a corporation announcement regarding terminal upgrades made earlier this year, Langdale was the only major route point not mentioned.
This summer, Langdale’s long-term parking lot has been filled to capacity on several dates. Without plans for additions or “park and ride” alternatives, which Mumford said has been raised with BCF but “has gone nowhere," she sees that situation getting worse as BCF continues to promote foot passenger travel as a way of addressing vehicle deck space capacity issues.
Major concerns relayed to the FAC
While Langdale received the lowest terminal customer ratings in BCF’s 2023 annual report, over the past two summers, conditions at Horseshoe Bay terminal have been the source of the greatest concern for Route 3 travellers and its FAC. The issue of vehicles being held above the toll booths, in Mumford’s words “is just not right." She has raised the issue with BCF and stated that in her view, the corporation’s relocation of some Nanaimo-bound departures to Tsawwassen this spring did not adequately relieve ferry traffic congestion at Horseshoe Bay. She said it verges on a basic human rights infringement to leave people waiting in vehicles for hours parked on pavement with no shade or access to food, water and proper washrooms in mid-summer heat.
“Sometimes they (BCF) forget that they are moving people and not just ships and vehicles.” Mumford, who also heads up a committee comprised of BCF’s 13 coastal FAC chairpersons, said that people-related concerns are the biggest part of what FACs work to address.
And wait times related to declining on-time performance, overloads and cancellations for Route 3 sailings impact people. While the percentage of cancellations of required sailings was at less than one for Route 3, Mumford pointed out that sailing licence level reductions weren’t reported on. In those cases, while there is no trip cancellation, the number of passengers carried is reduced to match the crew level available. In addition, the decline in on-time performance to 73 per cent in the recent annual report, Mumford said since 2015, that rate has “never significantly” improved and has ticked down in recent years. As for the overload rate of sailings, at 31 percent as of the last report period, the SSCFAC chair called that number “pathetic."
Another “people-centric” issue that FAC’s plan to raise at meetings with BCF executives, board members and representatives of the ferry authority, as well as the marine workers union, in advance of the AGM relates to accessibility issues on ships and at terminals.
“This isn’t just about seniors using walkers or wheelchairs,” she said. Her committee has received reports about accessibility issues related to the distance foot passengers need to traverse via loading ramps and walkways as well as with parking procedures on vehicle decks. Those, she said can also be frustrating for young families and people recovering from injuries or medical treatment. Mumford is hopeful that the lower Sunshine Coast local governments' new Coast-wide accessibility committee will mean it will be able to also advocate to the corporation to make improvements in this area.
What's changed for Route 3?
Nicholas Jimenez’s appointment as BCF’s CAO is a potential progress point, in Mumford's opinion. She said he recently brought in new leadership to the company’s information technology branch, which he has promised will help address issues with website and technology-related communications.
Although responses from the corporation to SSCFAC concerns since last year’s AGM did not bring much change, BCF did agree to increase service notices to include updates when issues impacting Route 3 foot passenger travel are anticipated. Also service-wide, Travel Assistance Program (TAP) travellers can reserve vehicle spaces free of charge and have access to a BCF “customer care team” for help with those.
One specific BCF response that remains outstanding for Mumford relates to the committee’s meeting last October. That event was attended by a number of community members who raised questions and issues to the corporation representatives, but no follow-up has happened.
As for the two “community check-in” events hosted at the Seaside Centre, she called those “superficial," as in her view, appropriate BCF staff were not on hand to answer questions or make real commitments.
Is attending BCF's AGM worth the time?
In charge of developing agendas for the FAC chair’s group meetings for the past three years, Mumford said it can be discouraging when the issues contained on those lists are the same year after year. While the lack of issue resolution is frustrating, she says she remains committed to connecting with BCF on these matters and that the travellers who want to see change should as well.
In her view, members of the public that take the time to inform themselves of the facts surrounding the service can play an important role, especially when it comes to social media discussions. Given what is often a lag and a lack of detail in BCF’s information sharing with the public, Mumford said that posting of details, especially about current conditions can be helpful to others. Of concern for her are social media statements that aren’t accurate as those can create more confusion.
“BCF documentation is so complicated…so people don’t go into the details,” she said. That lack of background understanding can result in people perpetuating assumptions or misinformation about “what the issues are, why they are that way and what we can do about it."
Members of the public can attend BCF's AGM on Aug 24 at 10 a.m. in person in Victoria or virtually by emailing in advance to email@example.com to receive a meeting link.