Future of ferry service contemplated

The province is asking for public input on how to make the coastal ferry service more sustainable, including any ideas on finding $26 million in savings over the next four years.

A public consultation process was announced Monday that includes 38 meetings in 30 communities, as well as an online commenting opportunity.

A meeting on Gabriola Island takes place Nov. 13 and a small group meeting and public open house are scheduled for Nanaimo on Nov. 15.

Service adjustments are necessary to ensure the coastal ferry service is sustainable, affordable and efficient and tough decisions need to be made, said Mary Polak, minister of transportation and infrastructure.

Rising costs and declining ridership are creating a financial crunch for the ferry system – B.C. Ferries lost more than $16 million last fiscal year and that is predicted to rise to $56 million per year within the next five years.

Four main factors are creating challenges for the system: rising fuel and labour costs; declining ridership – last year, B.C. Ferries reported the lowest vehicle numbers in 13 years and the lowest passenger volume in 21 years; under-utilized routes; and additional capital costs – an estimated $2.5 billion for further capital investments in the coming decade will be necessary unless new approaches are taken.

Ferry users are being asked to contribute $30 million in savings through service adjustments over the next four years. Service reductions on the major routes between the Island and Lower Mainland will achieve $4 million of these savings and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, working with B.C. Ferries, has identified considerations to achieve the remaining $26 million in savings.

Considerations are: significant annual shortfalls (all routes except three operated at a shortfall of more than $2 million last year); routes with annual utilization levels below 55 per cent; low round-trip utilization routes; maintaining basic levels of ferry service (for example, ferry service to and from work or school); routes requiring vessel replacement; and complexity of multiple-stop routes.

Last year, the Departure Bay-Horseshoe Bay run finished the year with an $11.22-million surplus, but the Nanaimo-Gabriola route logged a $4.59-million shortfall and the Duke Point-Tsawwassen route registered a $29.86-million shortfall – the largest shortfall of all routes.

Mike Corrigan, B.C. Ferries president, said the Duke Point run is primarily used during the week for commercial traffic and is important for taking some of the load off the other two major routes, especially during busy times of the year.

John Hodgkins, the Gabriola Island Ferry Advisory Committee chairman, said most of the ferry advisory committees were expecting the province to identify what routes were being considered for service adjustments instead of consulting on the underlying principles, which the committees thought were fixed already since they were written into the new ferry contract last July.

“We fully expected that by now we would have seen more detail,” he said.

Public consultation ends Dec. 21 and a final report is expected in February.

The small group meeting in Nanaimo takes place at the Coast Bastion Inn from 1-3 p.m. and people are asked to RSVP by e-mailing or by calling 1-855-387-7582. The public meeting takes place at the same location from 6-9 p.m. and no RSVP is required.

For more information, please go to www.coastalferries

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