BC Ferries’ public engagement process on sailing schedules is drawing backlash from some who, metaphorically speaking, smell a rat in the cargo hold.
While consulting the public before enacting changes is a generically positive approach, the BC Ferries exercise began with an insupportable premise: tell us what you want, but we can’t give you what you want.
The goal of the consultation was to create a schedule for the Horseshoe Bay-Langdale route that improves on-time performance, but from the outset the company ruled out the hourly service that actually worked when it was implemented earlier this year. Since the engagement process started in late May, BC Ferries officials have been banging away on the same drum.
After 2,300 surveys were in, BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall called that number “a great response,” but concluded, “we have received comments from customers suggesting a two-ship operation with hourly service, like we provided during the January to March dock construction project. We clearly understand the improvements that schedule brought to the customer experience. Unfortunately this type of service delivery is not sustainable in the near-to-medium term with our current ships. However, this temporary service has been an excellent trial for potential future service options with two smaller vessels when the C-Class ships, including the Queen of Surrey, need to be replaced in the 2020s.”
After 3,200 responses were in, president and CEO Mark Collins said in a press release that BC Ferries was “pleased to be hearing from so many” ferry users and acknowledged the desire for hourly service out of Langdale was one of the recurring themes. However, he said, “that option is several years away from being possible. At the moment we don’t have the appropriate vessels and the right terminal infrastructure to support hourly service on an ongoing basis, but we hear the community’s message loud and clear and we are working on it. Right now we are concerned with the reliability of sailing times and we need to make a change to improve this issue.”
BC Ferries recognizes it has a problem, which is best described as unreliable, unacceptable service, resulting in the worst on-time performance in the fleet and a late afternoon schedule that has driven commuters to use a private water taxi service.
The problems are well known and it’s really up to the experts to fix them. By tweaking the schedule with much fanfare about “strong community engagement,” is BC Ferries simply looking for a way to manage an ongoing public relations disaster?
Hence the suspicion of a rat in the hold. When the one meaningful solution is ruled out from the start, it does seem a little more than fishy.
John Gleeson is the editor of the Coast Reporter, based in Sechelt.