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BC Ferries releases schedule for northern routes

Despite BC Ferries' attempt to lessen the repercussions of sailing cuts to the Inside Passage and Prince Rupert/Skidegate routes, opponents say impacts to the North Coast's tourism sector will still be substantial.

The new schedules for the Inside Passage, or Route 10, and the Prince Rupert/Skidegate run, Route 11, were posted on BC Ferries' website last week following a number of meetings.

The Inside Passage will see one less sailing per week during the off-season, which is October to May. The voyage leaving Prince Rupert on Tuesday and returning from Port Hardy on Wednesday has been eliminated, with the Friday, Saturday and Sunday sailings still in place.

While the number of summer sailings hasn't changed, the length of the trip and its summer schedule has. Instead of starting in May and ending in September, the summer schedule will now be from June 11 to Sept. 8, with north and southbound trips always stopping in either Bella Bella of Klemtu to pick up passengers. Before there were a number of direct sailings.

Route 11 between Prince Rupert and Skidegate will see one less round trip per week in the fall-to-spring schedule. Prior to cuts there would be three round trips each week, with the Monday sailing being cut. After coming from Prince Rupert on Sunday, the ship will remain in Skidegate until Tuesday before it heads back. The Thursday sailing was not affected by changes.

During its peak season from June 28 to Sept. 7, Route 11 will have five sailings instead of six, with the Wednesday trip being eliminated.

Marshall said this will allow commercial traffic a night in Skidegate and will mean people living on Haida Gwaii who need to travel to Prince Rupert for appointments will stay for two nights instead of three.

"The province determined the number of round trips that were cancelled. We worked with the Ferry Advisory Committee and other community leaders and looked at some options," said Debra Marshall, BC Ferries spokesperson.

Scott Farwell, chair of Tourism Prince Rupert, said the provincial government doesn't understand the damage these reductions will have throughout the province.

"The realization I've come to is the government and BC Ferries has decided to operate the ferry as simply a transportation vehicle and haven't looked at it as the economic generator that it is through the entire north and province of B.C. ... I don't think urban British Columbians understand the impacts of this on small towns in northern B.C.," he said, adding he remains disappointed the cuts were made so quickly.

"We had a long-standing understanding with BC Ferries that any changes would be more than a year out ... due to the fact that we have a contract signed with a lot of tour operators and international companies that have customers sailing in 2014."

BC Ferries announced new schedules to Route 10 and 11 to accommodate tourism operators, with the rest of the reduced schedules being released March 31. Schedule changes for all affected routes will begin on April 28.

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