BC Ferries has announced it will keep running its early morning sailing from Saltery Bay to Earls Cove on a trial basis this summer, in addition to a mid-afternoon sailing to help with increased tourism traffic volume.
Last January, Northern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) requested that BC Ferries examine the annual schedule changes it makes to summer operations on route seven across Jervis Inlet, said committee chair Kim Barton-Bridges.
“We’re very happy,” said Barton-Bridges, “but it’s been a long wait.”
The route seven non-peak schedule, in effect between September and June, includes a 5:35 am sailing from Saltery Bay. When switching to the summer schedule each year, that early morning sailing is transferred to mid-afternoon to help accommodate tourism traffic.
During the past few years, the summer schedule change has created challenges for commercial freight carriers that rely on the early morning sailing for their business, or anyone else who needed to travel to Metro Vancouver and return to Powell River in a single day.
Barton-Bridges said the ferry advisory committee decided to push for the change after hearing from local freight companies.
“We all depend on what they are transporting,” she added. “We might not be on those early morning ferries, but our goods are.”
BC Ferries public affairs manager Darin Guenette confirmed the ferry corporation examined the advisory committee’s request and decided to keep the 5:35 am sailing from Saltery Bay as a two-year pilot.
“What we had heard through the FAC, particularly, was there is a lot of commercial and business interest in seeing an early morning sailing,” said Guenette. “We’re going to run it this summer and next, and then we’ll assess how well it did.”
Guenette said BC Ferries will look at the early morning trip’s utilization numbers and cost recovery to see if there is a business case for adding it permanently.
Sunshine Coast Tourism executive director Paul Kamon said he welcomed a schedule change that will help local businesses and the flow of summer tourist traffic.
“This is a big win for Powell River,” said Kamon. “Consistent and reliable transportation is integral to our community’s success, not just for tourism, but for our entire local economy.”
Kamon said the proposed changes strike an important balance for the community during the summer.
“Powell River needed the extra afternoon sailing to accommodate the influx of visitors, but that shouldn’t come at the cost of our local businesses that need the early sailing to make deliveries to Vancouver and return in a day,” he added.
BC Ferries’ service levels, with minimum mandated daily round-trips, are set through its agreement with, and partially subsidized by, the provincial government. Any trips above that minimum level are operated unsubsidized and on a financial break-even basis, said Guenette.
“We’re pretty confident the pilot makes sense, but it gives us the chance to see how it goes,” he added. “If for some reason it’s not used as much as we all think and we’re going to lose money, that might affect raising fares, then it’s not good for anybody.”
Guenette added that Powell River was not the only community BC Ferries has instituted a pilot for to test an added sailing. Gabriola Island, near Nanaimo, is going into the second summer of its pilot, he said.
“The Gabriola one is going really well,” said Guenette. “Their first summer was great and unless this summer is bizarrely disastrous, we’re pretty sure at the end of it we’ll turn it into a permanent change.”
Barton-Bridges said with more destination marketing for Powell River, a favourable currency exchange rate for American tourists, and Canadians travelling in Canada for their holidays, she is hopeful this summer will continue last summer’s trend of greater numbers of visitors to Powell River.
“It’s going to be a pretty busy summer,” she added. “I’m confident the numbers will be very positive in our favour for continuing this after the pilot finishes.”
The ferry corporation’s 2017 summer schedule goes into effect June 22, about one week earlier than previous years.