The provincial government is in the process of reviewing thousands of comments it received during the eight-week Coastal Ferries Consultation process conducted last fall.
The feedback will be used to help guide service adjustments and establish a long-term vision for the struggling ferry system, which has seen fares rise dramatically over the past eight years while ridership has dropped to its lowest levels in two decades.
During the consultation process, which took place between Oct. 29 and Dec. 21, senior ministry staff hosted 40 public consultation meetings in 30 communities, including Nanaimo, along with one webinar. More than 2,000 people attended the meetings while about 1,200 feedback forms and 700 written submissions were collected.
Mary Polak, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, said the strong response clearly reflects how much residents in coastal communities value the ferry system.
“We will carefully consider this report and take some time to determine how best to move forward to ensure that coastal communities are connected in an affordable, efficient and sustainable manner,” said Polak in a release.
Some of the suggestions included feasibility studies to determine if some communities would be better served by a bridge, switching ferry fuel to liquified natural gas to save money, and allowing profitable routes to subsidize money-losing routes.
The consultation process was one of 24 recommendations made by B.C. Ferries commissioner Gord Macatee last May in an effort to improve the vision and financial viability of the ferry system.
Blair Lekstrom was the transportation and infrastructure minister at the time. He introduced several key amendments to the Coastal Ferry Act based on Macatee’s recommendations, including the government committing an additional $79.5 million to 2016 to reduce pressure on fares. That additional funding means in 2013 B.C. taxpayers will be paying more than $180 million to B.C. Ferries.
Along with the cash boost, B.C. Ferries was tasked with finding $15 million in operational efficiencies and an additional $30 million in service adjustments, which could affect the schedules of underutilized routes reduced.
However, Polak promised further public consultation before any specific service reductions are implemented. She added that the government will now take the necessary time to review the submission and develop a plan to achieve the required $26 million in savings to 2016.
A copy of the report is available at www.coastalferriesengagement.ca.