Vivienne O’Connor

Vivienne O’Connor

Route cuts create hardship for Gabriola

NANAIMO – Late night and weekend morning sailings eliminated to help company cut costs

Gabriola Island residents are wondering how they will get home at night when late ferry sailings to and from Nanaimo are eliminated in April.

B.C. Ferries and the provincial government announced Monday that a number of “lower use” ferry runs will be cut in order to reduce costs. The Gabriola Island-Nanaimo Harbour route will see the elimination of the last two runs of the day from Gabriola Island (9:55 and 11 p.m.) and Nanaimo (10:25 and 11:30 p.m.).

The first round-trip sailings on Saturday and Sunday (in the 5 a.m. hour), the 8:50 p.m. Wednesday ferry from Gabriola, and the Sunday 7 a.m. ferry from Nanaimo will also be cut.

Gabriola resident Kayte Summers said the Gabriola route is a commuter route. Some residents work late – like university professors – and others enjoy going to Nanaimo to see shows and events in the evenings. Eliminating the last two sailings will make things inconvenient, she said.

“We can manage without the 11:30 (p.m.), we did for many years, but this 10:30 (p.m.) one seems to me to be a lack of consideration for the commuters who work in the evenings and a lot of us do, so I’m quite concerned about that,” Summers said, adding that people can’t leave work shifts or evening classes early.

Another change that will take effect in April is the loss of a 100-per cent discount for seniors riding ferries between Monday and Thursday. It will be reduced to 50 per cent, and while seniors still aren’t paying full fare, it is an increased cost for a group that sees many on fixed incomes.

“I won’t like that because I’m using my GoCard quite regularly, but for a lot of people I don’t think it will make a big difference,” said resident Vivienne O’Connor. “But if you’re in a vehicle and you’re already paying for the vehicle, then that will start to add up a lot.”

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure held public meetings regarding sustainability and efficiency of the ferry service in 2012 and another set of open houses will take place until Dec. 20, with a meeting at Gabriola scheduled for Dec. 10 between 5 and 8 p.m. at The Haven.

Sheila Malcolmson, a Gabriola Island trustee with the Islands Trust, said she is concerned cuts “don’t appear to have anything to do with the affordability of the ferries,” which is trust’s main concern.

She said the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure confirmed there is still a four-per cent fare increase scheduled for the spring and a 3.9-per cent fare increase a year after that. She said she is disappointed that there are service cuts on top of the increases, adding that she wished there had been more engagement with communities before the announcement was made. The Gabriola community is interested in finding ways to make the system more efficient, Malcolmson said.

Low passenger numbers don’t necessarily mean a sailing isn’t important, she added.

“Even though there’s low ridership on [a] particular run, it is full of commuters that are working hospital shifts or in some cases … maybe there’s only a small number of vehicles on the run but they are full of trucks taking products off the island or businesses bringing product onto the island those early and late sailings, and in fact, there really important to our local economy, even if they don’t actually have a whole lot of passengers on them,” said Malcolmson.

B.C. Ferries president and CEO Mike Corrigan was reached for comment but had not responded as of press time.

According to B.C. Ferries, the Gabriola  route sees a utilization rate of 45.5 per cent annually and the number of round trips annually is 5,732. By eliminating 834 a year, the moves will lead to an estimated net savings of $800,000 by 2016.