Letter: Don’t forget about coastal communities

On June 14, Northern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee chair Kim Barton-Bridges sent the following letter to premier John Horgan, transportation minister Clair Trevena, Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons, BC Ferries CEO Mark Collins, BC Ferries commissioner Sheldon Stoilen and BC Ferries deputy commissioner Eva Hage, as well as the Peak, in regard to recent cuts in service [“Schedule adjustments made for Powell River ferries,” June 12].

I am writing to you on behalf of the Northern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee, and the communities we represent.

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Our advisory committee, along with others from around the province, had worked very hard to “get back” (or add, for those who prefer) the sailings we lost in the harsh service cuts a number of years ago.

BC Ferries had reinstated (not BC Ferries’ parlance, but they were there, they were removed, and then they were put back) a number of those sailings. The ferry advisory chairs urgently requested the balance of the sailings to be reinstated as well, which the province did. This was good news for the community.

In retrospect, the news could have been better. The sailings that BC Ferries added should have been included in the “Core Service Levels” in an amended contract with the province, as was the case for the sailings that the province added.

As a result of this error/judgement call/decision, or for reasons unknown, the sailings that the province added are now part of the service contract between the province and BC Ferries, whereas the earlier sailings that were added by BC Ferries are labelled “discretionary”, i.e above the levels that the government considers mandatory, and at the discretion of BC Ferries to add/remove.

Now we have been told that due to the pandemic, anything that is “discretionary” is being cut, and pilots and capital projects that are not essential are being shelved. It is understandable that this is a challenging time to pursue major capital projects or pilots.

How unfortunate that BC Ferries added the sailings when they did. If we had waited for the province to come to the rescue, perhaps all the reinstated sailings would be part of the current contract, thus not be considered discretionary, and they would not have suddenly been pulled out from under us.

Please don’t get me wrong. We understand that there is a pandemic. We also understand that the economy is opening up for the province and that British Columbians are being advised to take “staycations” this summer. I just listened to premier Horgan excitedly talking about the “Explore BC Locally” initiative as part of BC’s Restart Plan … “Let’s go out and explore every corner of the province.”

The cuts in service that BC Ferries is rolling out for the summer don’t reflect this messaging. Are British Columbians being encouraged to travel to mainland destinations only? That would be sad news for the tourism industry in coastal communities.  With a six hour wait in the middle of the day at Earls Cove, who in their right mind would want to make the trip?

We were asked to pick our poison and help them decide which sailings to cut. It is hard … no one is going to agree.  Commercial travellers, medical appointments and those wanting get out and back in one day will opt for book end sailings.  Those travelling from Texada to the Lower Mainland will want to be able to get out in the morning as well. I have just learned that Canada Post uses the sailing that has been cut to get priority mail out. We also want goods and services to be able to come up from the Lower Mainland on the first ferry out of Horseshoe Bay. How do you choose the least worst option?

In recent conference calls between BC Ferries, FAC Chairs and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure as the new schedules were being proposed by BC Ferries, I expressed concern that the connections were tight between Langdale and Earls Cove, and that if there were delays on route 3, this could be problematic.

We were assured that they didn’t consider that OTP would be an issue. Fast forward to a week later and there are constant service notices being issued describing delays of 30 to 60 minutes on that route. We’ve only just begun and sailing waits and delays are already happening.

BC Ferries wants to wait until traffic increases and the economy opens up before adding sailings. How will the economies in coastal communities open up when there are six hour waits at terminals? It is rather a catch-22 situation; we need the sailings in order to recover. The rest of the province is not being told that their highways are closed for six hours at a time. We need help in our recovery, not cuts.

Please, we implore you, don’t forget about coastal communities.  We need support more than ever right now from our province and BC Ferries. Thank you for listening.

Kim Barton-Bridges, chair
Northern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee

 
Copyright © Powell River Peak

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