Sunshine Coast ferry users want more frequent service and more capacity to accommodate their growing population and tourism market, and they would like later evening sailings out of Horseshoe Bay. They also consider commuters – including students – as priority users and feel that schedules should be built around commuting times.
Those were some of the key findings from BC Ferries’ six-week public engagement exercise that wrapped up July 5 after hearing from more than 4,000 people through an online survey, focus groups and interviews.
The program was intended to collect public feedback before BC Ferries makes schedule changes to improve on-time performance for the Horseshoe Bay to Langdale and Bowen Island routes.
“We know these routes are challenged by sailing delays and we want to make changes to ensure our customers can rely on the schedules as published,” BC Ferries president and CEO Mark Collins said Aug. 14, when the results of the engagement were released. “We are pleased to review the report and incorporate public feedback where it is operationally possible.”
While BC Ferries acknowledged that current schedules on the two routes “are not achievable and customers often experience delays,” Collins noted schedule changes require careful consideration.
“It’s a very fine balance. We move up to 39 sailings daily in and out of Horseshoe Bay terminal using only three berths. There are trade-offs we have to make to adjust the schedules, and we wanted the communities’ input in deciding which trade-offs we should make.”
The report identifies the top two considerations for Sunshine Coast communities as “maintaining commute times, particularly the 6:20 a.m. and ideally 5:30 p.m. sailings, if possible,” and “increasing the capacity and frequency of service to the Sunshine Coast.”
No significant preference was shown to any of the three schedule examples provided in the survey, with respondents saying none of the examples would meet commuter needs in both the morning and afternoon.
“Bigger picture considerations” that were most commonly mentioned included ensuring ferry schedules are aligned with transit schedules on both sides of Howe Sound and ensuring Langdale sailing times leave enough time for residents of Powell River and surrounding islands to connect safely and reliably.
Respondents also called for bringing back hourly service, extending peak season schedules and long weekend schedules from Thursday to Tuesday, adding more sailings at peak times and a passenger ferry at peak commuter times, and implementing resident/commuter rates that could include free reservations and priority boarding.
BC Ferries declined to say how much it spent for the report, which was prepared by Context Research Ltd. of Vancouver.
“For competitive reasons, we aren’t releasing the cost of the engagement,” said Deborah Marshall, BC Ferries’ executive director, public affairs.
“We will be conducting more public consultation and engagement processes on a variety of projects in the near future and we don’t want to compromise the competitive bidding process as it is commercially sensitive,” Marshall said.
“Suffice to say,” she added, “a good engagement process takes investment. We certainly appreciate that the ferry schedule is of great importance to our customers and feel that the cost of obtaining broad feedback from the community is worth the cost.”
BC Ferries said it will present new schedule options to the public in early fall and “report back on action items and plans related to the key considerations brought forward by the community.”
The corporation is “also reviewing short- and long-term measures including more frequent service to better support commuter and wider community needs,” the report said.
The report can be viewed at bcferries.com/about/ontime-sc