The simple solution for BC Ferries not a ‘Tough Decision’

Opinion: Government’s scheme makes no sense, says group

Transportation Minister Todd Stone constantly describes his service cuts to BC Ferries, and specifically his elimination of the Discovery Coast direct sailing between Port Hardy and Bella Coola, as “tough decisions.”

He claims these cuts are the only possible solution to the economic problems BC Ferries is facing. Minister Stone evidently didn’t look very hard.

BC Ferries’ stated goal is to save $18.9 million by 2016.  To achieve this, they are making some big cuts to a number of routes and services, disrupting communities all along the coast and into the Interior, and bringing financial hardship to hundreds of small businesses.  Minister Stone asserts these were all “tough decisions” because no easier solution could be found.

But there is a simple solution Minister Stone has not raised.

First, according to the Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs (FACC), the Tsawwassen – Duke Point (Nanaimo) route has been losing $24-30 million a year and operates at only 48% capacity.  If it made three weekday sailings instead of four for 10 months of the year, the savings would be $9.6 million over 2 years. That’s one simple cut to reach half the goal.

“Instead of causing business closures and job losses, let’s make choices that make sense,” said Leonard Ellis, Vice-Chair of Save The Discovery Coast Ferry. “With a reservation system and consultation with freight companies, that route wouldn’t lose any traffic at all with this cut.”

Secondly, over the past 25 years the BC Ferries system has increased by only two new routes but has added almost 500 managers.  It’s a top-heavy institution that consumes $64 million a year in management salaries.  A mere 7.3% reduction in management costs will generate $4.7 million per year, or $9.4 million over 2 years.  This second cut covers the remainder of the $18.9 million in savings that BC Ferries says it requires by 2016.

Somehow, these two simple solutions have eluded Minister Stone.  He’s been busy making tough decisions like gutting Route 40 to save $725,000, then having to add back refurbishment costs and extra sailings on the inadequate Nimpkish, extra stops on the Inside Passage route, not to mention additional labour and fuel costs, just so his new plan can drive away tourism traffic.  The government’s scheme to create savings by adding costs and wiping out small business makes no financial sense.

Yet there is no indication Minister Stone has even considered these simple alternatives.  Why?

“This just highlights the fact that BC Ferries should be returned to the Ministry of Transportation and run to benefit the entire provincial economy, just like other transportation systems” said Petrus Rykes, Chair. “Then the Minister would have all the information in front of him to make logical decisions. Right now he’s too remote from the details to understand why his cuts won’t work.”

– Save The Discovery Coast Ferry