Options exist to keep ferries afloat

NANAIMO – B.C. Ferries making the wrong route cuts, yet top employees still sitting pretty.

Everyone knows the story of the Titanic. The world’s most famous ocean liner once considered unsinkable sinks off the coast of Newfoundland.

British Columbia has its own version of the Titanic, which is affectionately known as B.C. Ferries. Much like the Titanic, it is sinking, albeit slowly, along the coast of British Columbia.

Last week busloads of demonstrators showed up on the lawn of the legislature in Victoria to protest the latest round of ferry cuts, which will affect ferry dependant communities. These service reductions are expected to save B.C. Ferries $18.9-million over two years, while fares are set to increase by four per cent later this year.

Among these proposed cuts is the Gabriola Island-Nanaimo Harbour route, which will see a 14.5 per cent service reduction in order to save $800,000 by 2016. The proposed cuts would see scheduled service from Gabriola Island (9:55 and 11 p.m.) and Nanaimo (10:25 and 11:30 p.m.) eliminated. Early morning weekend sailings are also among the purposed cuts to the route.

I am not against cutting particular routes if they’re barely used and too expensive. However, I have to wonder if the right cuts are being made.

Every morning on my commute to the News Bulletin, I see the digital B.C. Ferries sign on the Island Highway displaying capacity levels for the morning sailings from Departure Bay and Duke Point. Since I began this commute, I can only recall a handful of times where a morning sailing was at more than 50 per cent capacity. Is an 8:30 a.m crossing and a 10:30 a.m. crossing from Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay really necessary? There have been plenty of times where I’ve seen the 8:30 a.m. crossing to Horseshoe Bay at less than 20 per cent with less than 30 minutes before its sailing time.

The argument against the cuts from local Gabriola Island residents is that they will no longer be able to work late at their jobs or attend late-night classes at Vancouver Island University. Furthermore, they suggest that they’ll be forced to move from their beloved Island in order to make it to work on time.

Suggesting that people move out of their community is an easy argument to make when you’re not living in that community. It is also a very simple solution to a deeply complicated problem.

On top of all this “positive” news comes news that fares are going to increase, which coincides nicely with an apparent raise that B..C Ferries Union employees are expected to receive come April 1. In case you forgot, a cashier at the gift shop onboard a B.C. ferry is currently paid more than $20 an hour. This makes me wonder why I bothered going to college.

I find it hard to believe that B.C. Ferries couldn’t find it in itself to find other ways to save $18 million over the next two years. According an article in the Vancouver Sun, B.C. Ferries had four vice-president’s making over $225,000 a year in 2012. There were an additional 1,035 employees making over $100,000 that same year.

It is no secret that B.C. Ferries management is grossly over-staffed and it doesn’t take an accountant to figure out that if cuts were made to the front office and some of the other under-capacity crossings on major routes that some ferry crossing times could remain on the smaller routes that are scheduled to receive cuts.

Following the sinking of the Titanic, there were a handful of lessons that were learned, the most obvious being that ships are now legally required to carry lifeboats to handle the capacity of all those on board. Perhaps it will take a sinking of B.C. Ferries as an organization to achieve an economical, effective and efficient ferry service for all of B.C.