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Quadra Island ferry service to face cuts

Sailing cuts by BC Ferries to the Quadra Island run will have repercussions, according to the island’s elected representative.

The Campbell River-Quadra sailing is one of 16 minor routes selected for service reductions effective April 2014, BC Transportation Minister Todd Stone announced Monday morning.

BC Ferries will cut 468 of the route’s 6,253 annual round-trip sailings (a 7.5 per cent reduction) for an estimated savings of $370,000 by 2016.

Jim Abram, vice-chair of the Strathcona Regional District and Quadra director, said BC Ferries is expected to eliminate the 10 p.m. sailing from Quadra Island and the 10:30 p.m. sailing leaving Campbell River every day as well as the 11 p.m. sailing leaving Quadra and the 11:30 p.m. leaving Campbell River on Fridays and Saturdays.

“We’re going to lose all arts, all culture and nighttime sports,” Abram said. “People on Quadra wanting to go to a show at the

Tidemark – forget about that. And Walcan, they have a huge workforce from Campbell River and they work late and they can’t afford to stay in a hotel here every night.”

The cuts also increase the chance of BC Ambulance service having to call out the ferry after hours during an emergency – a measure Abram said costs the province $2,000-$3,000 each time.

Abram expects it will also have an impact on Quadra Islanders who go over to Campbell River for the evening for sports and arts programs.

He said it will also impact commercial trucks which tend to take the last ferry from Campbell River over to Quadra, load up at night and then take the first ferry back in the morning.

The B.C. government introduced the service cuts in a bid to cut costs.

The first round of cutbacks – to the minor and northern routes – is expected to save BC Ferries $14 million. Further changes will be coming to the major routes (Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay, Departure Bay-Horseshoe Bay and Duke Point-Tsawwassen) by April 2016 for a further $4.9 million in savings.

Abram, though, said the cuts are a “slap in the face” and undermine the upcoming public consultations sessions being held across the province.

“Today coastal communities, totally dependent on current levels of ferry service, are being cut off at the knees in a unilateral ministerial announcement before the consultation process even begins,” Abram said. “What a slap in the face to hard-working coastal residents who are major contributors to the provincial economy. Ferries are our marine highways and they allow coastal B.C. to contribute to the economic development of the province.”

It’s also a slap to the group of regional district chairs under the impression the government wanted to work together to find a solution to the ferry problem, Abram said.

Following a resolution at September’s Union of BC Municipalities convention demanding the government treat ferries as part of the provincial highway system, Premier Christy Clark appointed Jordan Sturdy, Parliamentary Secretary to Minister Stone, to work with the group, of chairs, which includes Abram.

A meeting with Sturdy and the chairs was scheduled for Nov. 22 and then cancelled last Friday, just three days before the government announced the impending cuts and other cost-saving measures.

Those include eliminating free sailings for seniors (65 and older) travelling Monday and Thursday.

As of April 2014, the senior discount will be 50 per cent off the regular fare, to save approximately $6 million per year.

Stone acknowledged that choosing to cut service was a difficult decision, but necessary.

“We are making tough decisions to ensure that our coastal ferry service is sustainable for future generations,” Stone said in a release. “These changes protect basic service levels and are in keeping with the fiscal realities facing provincial taxpayers.”

Abram questioned that.

“This is not a solution in any way, shape or form. It’s a complete joke,” Abram said. “This is window dressing and patches and will not provide anything of a sustainable future for BC Ferries.

“I think they’re trying to run the service into the ground.”

BC Ferry critic Claire Trevena agreed.

“The Liberal government has stalled for years on fixing the problems at B.C. Ferries while the corporation’s debt rose, and ridership fell,” said the North Island MLA. “Now, their only idea seems to be trying to raise funds through on-board slot machines and an uncaring plan to cut discounts for seniors, making it harder for families to keep in touch.

“Seniors on fixed incomes will be disproportionately affected by these changes.”

The community input sessions into the ferry cuts begin this week. A session is scheduled for Quadra Island on Monday, Dec. 9, 6-9 p.m. at the Quadra Community Centre.

More information on the sessions can be found at www.coastalferriesengagement.ca

Abram encourages everyone to attend.

“We don’t have any room for apathy with this one, it’ll only get worse,” said Abram who added he’s confident the public won’t let the issue slip away. “People are organizing as we speak, they won’t put up with this draconian slashing of service, charging seniors and the stupidity of putting slot machines on (the vessels).”

 

Casino

The B.C. government is considering adding a gaming component to BC Ferries starting with a pilot project to install a casino on the Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen run.

If successful, casinos may be added to all three of the major Lower Mainland-Vancouver Island runs.

The government said the gaming revenue could be reinvested into the ferry system to support general fares.

 

Other changes

BC Ferries is looking at other measures to save money including:

  • Using more standard, ‘no frills’ vessels on smaller routes.
  • Converting to Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) propelled vessels.
  • Considering alternate technologies such as cable ferries.
  • Expanding its reservation system to include discounts on booking reservations for less busy sailing times and opening up reservations to the smaller routes.

 

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