By Susan Allen
The Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce took part in the recent B.C. Ferries consultation process.
The corporation hopes to cut $30 million from its budget and is looking to communities to assist with this process. The presentation provided a number of potential strategies to improve how coastal communities are connected.
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and B.C. Ferries are interested in feedback regarding these strategies. Go to the B.C. Ferries website at www.coastalferriesengagement.ca to add a voice to this process.
According to information provided by B.C. Ferries, it found $4 million through service reduction on the major routes, but is required to identify another $26 million in savings by 2016.
Ongoing issues include rising fuel and labour costs, declining ridership, underutilized routes and additional capital costs such as vessel replacement.
With the exception of two major routes – Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen and Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay – all other coastal ferry routes operated at a shortfall of more than $2 million in 2011-12.
B.C. Ferries is looking at what is the best way to connect coastal communities including:
* Some routes could be served using a combination of passenger only ferries and a barge that carries vehicles.
* Should the feasibility of a bridge be explored on smaller routes?
* Improving links between ferry terminals and communities with better cycling connection or public transit service.
* Use of alternative fuels, such as liquefied natural gas.
* Standardizing vessels and docks to allow the flexibility to switch ferries and crews between routes.
* Should property and fuel taxes be increased in coastal communities to help fund ferry service?
Looking for solutions, B.C. Ferries identified a number of ways to cut costs. These include routes that have consistently low utilization rates and correspondingly high financial shortfalls may merit consideration for service adjustments.
Statistically, the early and late sailings are those with the lowest utilization rates. Basic levels of service should be considered, for the majority of users, ferry service would be provided to and from work or school.
There is a need when planning for vessel replacements, to look at alternatives to ensure that the needs of ferry users are being met in an efficient and cost effective manner.
When considering service reduction, they need to consider the complexity of routes with multiple ports and those that provide connections to other areas.