BC Coastal Ferries Consultation aims to prioritize locals concerns

BC Coastal Ferries Consultation aims to prioritize locals concerns

The BC Coastal Ferries Consultation and Engagement held an open house and discussion for residents of the Central Coast on November 21 at Lobelco Hall. A panel of four people, with two facilitators, are touring the coastal communities for the consultation and engagement process. Their goal is to take local feedback in how best to serve the communities and cut $26 million from their operating budget.

The discussion guide explained the BC Ferries Commissioner’s January 2012 Report, which concluded that the government, BC Ferries, and ferry users will all need to contribute towards ensuring the sustainability of the ferry system.

As a result of the Report, the province is contributing an additional $79.5 million on behalf of taxpayers by 2016. BC Ferries has committed to achieve $15 million in efficiency improvements, while ferry users are being asked to contribute $30 million through service adjustments, and $4 million has been found through service reductions on the major routes between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland.

There is still a need to find $26 million in savings by 2016. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and BC Ferries have identified areas where they think they can save $26 million, but these may not be mutually exclusive. MoT and BC Ferries will need to look at a combination of these considerations to find the $26 million in savings, but they are interested in the public view on the prioritization.

The panel consisted of four people and two facilitators. David Henry, Strategic Planner, and Peter Simpson, Operations, both represented BC Ferries. Kevin Richter, Associate Deputy Minister, and Lynda Petruzzi are from Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. Nancy Schooner and an assistant were the open house facilitators. The 25 people who attended were ready to start the question and answer portion immediately.

“The number one complaint has been towards the IT infrastructure. We need to improve the current reservation booking service,” Henry stated. “In addition, the current schedules shortfalls are apparent throughout various communities.”

Tourism stakeholders believe that the ferry service to Bella Coola stops too early, during the peak rider ship at the beginning of the popular bear-viewing season. Topics brought forth from the public included expressions of gratitude, and a real need for the ferry service to continue for the economic survival of the community.

A BC Ferries feedback form asked the question: what do people think about raising taxes as a form of raising revenue? Brian Lande, CCRD chair, made the point this would only result in revenue of $4000 from a community of this size.

There were a variety of different sectors represented by the individuals present. Gary Coons, MLA, had one solid message to be taken to the Commissioner, “BC Ferries used to have a social and economic contract for 50 years with the BC public serving BC communities,” Coons said, and he would like that to continue.

Irene Champagne works as a Mental Health Consultant in works in remote communities such as Klemtu. Travelling with BC Ferries has posed repetitive challenges.

Last summer, she had booked 18 trips, 10 of which were cancelled. One instance had her arriving at the ferry terminal with no notice of the cancellation, bearing all of her work and food supplies for three weeks, only to be told she would then have to book a flight at a much higher cost.

She was then unable to bring the much-needed supplies. “If I ran a business and it was reliant on the BC Ferries system, I would have gone bankrupt.”

The evening concluded with the panel thanking everyone for their thoughtful discussion and valuable ideas. They encouraged the public to talk with their friends and family to continue to send their comments. Discussion guides and feedback forms are available at the Co-op and CCRD offices and online at www.coastalferriesengagement.ca. The Ministry of Transportation will publish the results of the consultation process on their website in February 2013.