BC Ferries says it can’t afford to make improvements to route 11

BC Ferries shot-down two suggestions on ways to improve the ridership experience to and from the Haida Gwaii.

BC Ferries shot-down two suggestions on ways to improve the ridership experience to and from the Haida Gwaii even as ridership on their northern routes has plummeted over the last year.

The suggestions were made last Thursday at the meeting of the BC Ferries advisory committee by Evan Putterill, a member of the Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional District board who represents the community of Sandspit on the Haida Gwaii.

The first problem that Putterill brought to the corporation’s attention was the fact that the trips to and from the islands arrive at their destinations in the very early hours of the morning. Passengers are asked to leave the vessel shortly after they arrive, leaving many people stranded with nowhere to go for several hours because motels or the boat over to Sandspit are not open at that early.

“This is particularly a concern for people who don’t have vehicles. They have to spend the time in the BC Ferries terminal which is poorly heated,” Putterill tells the other board members at their meeting last Friday.

Putterill suggested to BC Ferries that instead kicking people off the boat right away, they should let people wait on the boat for things to open, since the ship doesn’t leave again for hours after it arrives anyway.

“BC Ferries said they could not do that because they didn’t have the staff capabilities. They only have the staffing to deal with the length of the crossing and then after that they have to go off-ship. They don’t have the staff to supervise passengers on a 24-hour basis, ” says Putterill.

The second suggestion made by Putterill was that the corporation make changes to its safety policy regarding what happens when a trip between Prince Rupert and the Haida Gwaii has to be cancelled due to wave hight. Putterill says that the company has been cancelling trips on route 11 more and more.

“And this is causing people to be stranded more on either side and that can be a real economic burden,” says Putterill.

He suggested at the advisory committee meeting that BC Ferries put in place some kind of travel insurance or other mechanism to help out passengers who find their trip has been cancelled on them.

“They (BC Ferries) are saving a lot of money when they cancel a trip and they don’t have to burn that fuel,” says Putterill.

BC Ferries told him that their Chief Financial Officer, Rob Clarke, had looked into the possibility of travel insurance for passengers a year-and-a-half ago, but found that offering customers  insurance that specialized would be prohibitively expensive.

Putterill says that there are some more community-based options to help alleviate this problem that are being explored.

“Social services type stuff, better information at the ferry terminals to make sure that people know that things like the medical stay units can be used for low-income families that are stranded on the Prince Rupert side. So there’s going to be a little more work done into that to find some local solutions,” says Putterill.

Making money on the three major routes that travel the north coast has been hard for BC Ferries even with multi-million dollar provincial subsidies. Whats not helping is the fact that ridership on those routes have also been dropping in the past year.

On route 10, which goes between Prince Rupert and Port Hardy, vehicle traffic fell 9 per cent and passenger traffic was down 8 per cent. On route 11 between Prince Rupert and the Haida Gwaii, vehicles were also down 9 per cent and passengers were down 6 per cent. On route 26 which is used to get two and from Sandspit, vehicles were down 3 per cent and passengers down 2 per cent.