Transportation Minister Todd Stone is now reversing course on statements made earlier this week in regards to eliminating the Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay ferry run.
In a document filed on Sept. 30 to British Columbia Ferry Services by Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Robert Clarke, a series of recommendations were made to continue to “enhance efficiencies” over the coming years, some of which would have major implications for travellers to and from the Mid/North Island region. The main implication being the possible amalgamation of the two ferry terminals in Nanaimo – Departure Bay and Duke Point – and running those ferries exclusively to Tsawwassen, cutting off Vancouver Island’s direct access to the north side of Vancouver through Horseshoe Bay.
The study said that there is “the potential to increase service efficiency to the mid-island corridor and reduce the overall operating cost profile to this corridor, the potential to optimize terminal capital investment between the two Metro Vancouver terminals … and the potential to optimize the number of vessels serving the mid-island corridor.”
According to the report, because the routes between the Lower Mainland and Departure Bay/Duke Point provide 51 per cent more round trips and 38 per cent greater vehicle capacity, yet carry only two per cent more vehicles and 16 per cent fewer passengers on an annual basis when compared to the crossing between Tsawwassen and Victoria, they are key routes in targeting efficiencies within the organization.
The report also stated that “six out of 11 Major Route vessels are due for replacement from fiscal 2023 through fiscal 2030,” so “significant operational and capital efficiencies can be gained if the number of vessels serving the mid-island corridor can be reduced,” and Minister Stone said that he was looking at all of the recommendations in the report as possibilities.
“This is ridiculous,” said Claire Trevena, North Island MLA and NDP ferries spokesperson, in response to the report, before the government back-pedalled on the possibility of implementing its findings. “The (transportation) minister should be putting a stop to that discussion right now,” she said, rather than entertaining the option in any way.
“They just never look at long-term economic consequences, this government,” Trevena said. “These are long-term projects that will have long-term consequences in so many ways, and this government just doesn’t look at those consequences.”
Trevena said the Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay route is a well-used route that serves a completely different demographic than the ones it’s being compared to in the report, so the comparison in the report is faulty. She also restated her view that the ferry system should be considered part of the highways system in B.C.
“BC Ferries needs to stop working as a corporate entity worried about it’s bottom line,” she said. “Transportation systems shouldn’t be designed to make money, and this pseudo ‘not private, but not public, either’ mishmash will never work.”
The report also cited a $200-million investment needed to make structural improvements to the Horseshoe Bay terminal as part of the reasoning for recommending the route closure. Those upgrades, according to the report, “carry a significantly higher risk of successful execution and of business interruption than at other terminals.”
“If there were major upgrades that were needed (at Horseshoe Bay) why didn’t they do those when they did the last round of major upgrades four years ago for the Olympics?” asked Trevena. “And the actual ferry terminal isn’t going anywhere, because it’ll still be serving Bowen Island and Langdale, right? Won’t it still need those upgrades?”
There was immediate speculation amongst the public, especially rampant on Twitter and Facebook, that the government was intentionally trying to rile people up against this particular proposal so that when the next round of ferry service adjustments is made they won’t look as grave in comparison and will be easier to accept, causing less backlash.
“That wouldn’t surprise me,” said Trevena. “It’s the way we’ve seen this government work in the past, so that could very well be what they’re doing,” implying that it could be a ploy by the government to raise fares again to cover infrastructure cost that should be coming out of their budget.
“They could be doing it so they can then say, ‘Okay, we’ll keep Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo, but you’ll have to pay for the upgrades with your ferry tickets,’” and have people more readily accept fee increases.
The day after the announcement, Minister Stone said he has reconsidered cutting the route, telling CBC, “That’s an iconic run in British Columbia–very popular with locals and tourists and I think we’ve been very consistent in saying there’s no appetite whatsoever within the B.C government to see BC Ferries cancel that run.”