The Sechelt Chamber of Commerce wants the province to change its contract with BC Ferries so the company always has at least one vessel in reserve to cope with situations like the loss of the Queen of Coquitlam on Route 3 just before the Canada Day weekend.
At the time, BC Ferries said there were no other ships available to be redeployed to serve the Langdale-Horseshoe Bay run, which forced them to go to a modified schedule that led to longer than usual lineups, overloads and traveller frustration.
Chamber chair John Henderson said the situation on the long weekend prompted them to write Transportation Minister Claire Trevena asking her and the NDP government to “urgently implement changes to the Coastal Ferry Services contract to include funding and incentives to ensure BC Ferries has, at all times, at least one and possibly two additional ferries that can be brought into service on short notice.”
Henderson told Coast Reporter the Chamber has been hearing from members that businesses, especially tourism-reliant businesses, were hurt by the ferries mess.
“One of our members, who’s able to track where his customers come from, last year had a very good Canada Day weekend from off-Coast customers. This year he had zero,” Henderson said. “We’ve heard there were cancellations in the tourism sector [as well].”
Henderson said it’s the Chamber’s opinion that disruptions in ferry service are creating “the perception that the Sunshine Coast is difficult to reach.”
The Chamber’s letter acknowledges the government’s move to reduce fares and bring back free travel for seniors, but goes on to say, “We suggest you have not addressed the paramount issue of ensuring reliable and predictable service at all times of the year. To achieve this, it is clear that BC Ferries must have more vessels in their fleet.”
The Chamber said a fare increase of 30 cents per trip could pay for another vessel, and the cost would be less if BC Ferries could leverage federal or provincial government shipbuilding subsidies.
Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons, who was also copied on the Chamber’s letter, said the government knows there is a need for new and backup vessels – a situation he said got worse when the upgraded Queen of Chilliwack was sold under the previous government.
“The process of acquiring new vessels began last year and I don't think more money or legislative changes will speed that process up,” he said. “Along with significant fare reductions and the restoration of cancelled sailings, I’m pleased with the changes we’ve made to the Coastal Ferries Act, which now requires the Commissioner to take into account public interest when regulating the ferry system.”
BC Ferries’ latest capital plan calls for five new vessels to replace four of the C-Class ships, including the Queen of Coquitlam, and add an extra ferry to “address forecasted increases in vehicle and passenger traffic in the coming years, and to build resiliency in the fleet,” a recent press release said.
The first of those new builds will enter service in 2023, and enable BC Ferries to begin running two ferries year-round on the Langdale route in the 2024 fiscal year. The last two C-Class ships, including the Queen of Surrey, are scheduled for replacement in 2030.