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BC transportation minister responds to ferry concerns

Todd Stone reassures Electoral Area C director of improvements to transportation service

BC transportation minister Todd Stone shares the concerns of Powell River residents and visitors when it comes to how BC Ferries handled the Queen of Burnaby going in for unexpected maintenance last July, according to an email the minister wrote to Powell River Regional District Electoral Area C director Colin Palmer.

In a Thursday, September 29, email to Palmer, Stone stated that he “understands how frustrating it must have been for people travelling to and from Powell River, particularly for those not made aware of the significant delays beforehand.”

Over a six-day period in the week before BC Day this summer, travellers were forced to wait an average of 10 hours for ferry service between the Upper and Lower Sunshine Coast.

The Queen of Burnaby, which runs between Powell River and Comox, went out of service due to a persistent leaky propeller shaft. Two smaller relief vessels used to replace the MV Island Sky, which normally runs between Saltery Bay and Earls Cove and ran in place of the Burnaby, were unable to accommodate increased summer traffic.

In the email, Stone reassures Palmer that BC Ferries has reviewed what happened and is “dedicated to improving communication with customers through timely and up-to-date service notices, improved signage and relaying information at connecting terminals and onboard the Langdale vessel.”

In an open letter to the community after the incident, BC Ferries reassured residents that it would be looking at improving communication about wait times if such an event happened again.

“Should a similar situation arise in the future, I am confident that BC Ferries will apply the lessons learned from this incident and provide an improved level of service to Sunshine Coast residents and travellers,” stated Stone.

Palmer said that while he is happy Stone has talked to BC Ferries about what happened, reassurances that something similar will not happen in the future do not hold much credence.

Palmer said the provincial government keeps telling coastal communities the issue will be fixed when three new Salish-class vessels come into service. With the summer increases in traffic and presumed removal of the Burnaby and Queen of Nanaimo, which runs between Victoria and Salt Spring Island, the total deck capacity of the fleet will only increase by about 50 cars, he said.

“There’s nothing dramatic about the arrival of these ferries; they need four or five new ones, never mind three,” said Palmer. “You can’t keep waiting and persuading us that three new ferries are going to solve the problem.”

Palmer said that while BC Ferries waits for the new vessels, the province should be looking at increasing the amount of service it directs BC Ferries to provide to coastal communities.