Giving back what it took away, BC Ferries announced on December 13 that it will be adding sailings on the Comox-Powell River route, restoring service that was cancelled in 2014.
The adjustment to the afternoon schedule will be effective December 20 and onward. The fourth daily sailing added for Wednesdays and Saturdays leave Comox at 3:15 pm and Powell River at 5:15 pm. The current 6:50 pm departure from Comox changing will now set sail at 7:15 pm.
While most reaction to the decision was positive, the news was met with some cynicism, including from Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons.
“It’s a little ironic,” said Simons. “They’re making this announcement about doing something they took away and now they're giving it back and we're supposed to be very pleased.”
The change is not temporary, according to BC Ferries president and chief executive officer Mark Collins.
“It is a permanent add, as far as we are concerned,” said Collins.
Service levels could possibly change in the future if economic conditions dictate, he added.
“Such a change could only be done in consultation with the community,” said Collins.
Collins gave two reasons for restoring the sailings: the “eloquence and persistence” of the Northern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee and economics.
“With the upturn in traffic occurring, the improving financials and the increased economic activity we can all see in the Powell River area, it made sense for us to put these sailings back into the schedule,” said Collins.
According to BC Ferries, Powell River routes have all seen above-average increases for ridership in 2017. As of October, ferry traffic between Powell River and Comox was up approximately 6.8 per cent from the same period last year.
“Now the traffic is back and the economic activity is strong,” said Collins. “The advisory committee has made the case to us that these sailings will be supported with ridership and we agree with it. It's a good time to put these back because the financials and the community activity are present.”
The ferry advisory committee received more than it asked for, according to chair Kim Barton-Bridges. It pushed for the Wednesday afternoon sailings due to impacts on people travelling for medical appointments and on businesses.
“We thought it would be pretty bold to ask for both of them,” said Barton-Bridges.
The Saturday sailing was not included in the committee’s service request submitted in mid-November, so it came as a compete surprise, according Barton-Bridges.
She said she credits Collins’ appointment to president from his previous role as vice-president of strategic planning and community engagement, a position that gave him an insight into consultation with coastal advisory committees, as being instrumental in restoring the service.
Simons said he has seen a change in BC Ferries’ approach since Collins took over.
“Having met with Mark recently and with the care and attention he's paying to ferry-advisory committees, we see evidence of a new approach,” said Simons. “The advisory committees have been doing a really good job for a long time, and I'm glad BC Ferries is deciding to listen to them.”
Meanwhile, the province announced on December 15 that it will begin a review of the entire BC Ferries coastal service in January. The study is intended to evaluate if ferry service is meeting the needs of coastal communities and identify what improvements can be made.
The review, to be conducted by Blair Redlin, former deputy minister of transportation and former CEO of the BC Transportation Financing Authority, is to be delivered to the government by June 2018 at a cost of $250,000.
Under the terms of reference for the review, Redin will not be considering bringing the independently managed, public owned company back into the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
Meanwhile, a new ferry schedule announced back in September that took effect January 2 is intended to improve on-time performance between the Lower Mainland and Sunshine Coast.
The changes to the Horseshoe Bay to Langdale route will make it easier to make connections at Earls’ Cove terminal to Powell River. BC Ferries also made adjustments of 10 to 20 minutes later on some departures from Earl’s Cover to allow for a two-hour drive from the Langdale terminal.