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Ferry cuts to go ahead

The province is moving ahead with BC Ferries sailing cuts, despite objections from affected communities raised through a series of public meetings just before Christmas.

On Wednesday, the B.C. government confirmed $18.9 million in service reductions will go into effect April 28.

Todd Stone, the B.C. minister of transportation and infrastructure, said the government will also eliminate free weekday walk-on tickets for seniors 65 and older and will be charging seniors half-price passenger fares starting April 1.

The province is also proceeding with a pilot project to put slot machines on some ships serving BC Ferries’ major routes, with revenues directed towards reducing the pressure on future fare increases.

Stone said while it was not an easy decision to cut service, it was a necessary one.

“We are making these tough decisions today in the interest of the taxpayers of B.C., and for the future of the coastal ferry service and the communities they serve,” Stone said in a release. “Better alignment of service levels to the demand, while protecting basic levels of service, is necessary to ensure a coastal ferry service that’s affordable, efficient and sustainable for future generations.”

The proposal to cut certain sailings on BC Ferries’ minor routes has not been a popular one with residents who live in coastal communities and rely on the ferry system.

Public consultation meetings through November and December, in which more than 3,700 people in affected communities participated,  generated mostly negative feedback.

At Quadra’s Island’s public session on Dec. 9, BC Ferries and provincial government representatives got an earful.

Jim Abram, Quadra Island director for the regional district, said the government is “killing communities” and “insulting” islanders.

“The plan’s a joke, it’s an insult to our intelligence and it’s a crime against our people,” Abram said at the December meeting. “We will continue to shuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic while the ship is sinking. We will not allow our community to go down with the ship. We had to come, we had to be here and tell you you’re wrong.”

Others at the meeting were concerned that BC Ferries’ proposal to cut the last sailing leaving both Campbell River and Quadra Island would kill any extracurriculars for Quadra Islanders who play sports, attend workshops or shows, or eat out in Campbell River during the evenings.

Stone said the government has reviewed the public engagement summary report – a record of comments from the public meetings – and is directing BC Ferries to meet with affected community representatives to select sailing cuts based on input received during the public sessions.

Stone said that could mean that on some routes there may be opportunities to eliminate mid-day sailings instead of early morning or late evening sailings.

The final schedules will be made public by the end of March.

North Island MLA Claire Trevena, the NDP’s transportation critic, also condemned the cutbacks, “Today, the B.C. Liberals have proven that their so-called consultations with coastal communities were just window dressing on a done deal.”

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