Ferry cuts proceeding on northern routes despite outcry at public meetings

Despite extensive opposition from people throughout the North Coast, ferry cuts are coming to the region and they are coming this spring.

Despite extensive opposition from people throughout the North Coast, ferry cuts are coming to the region and they are coming later this year.

B.C. Minister of Transportation Todd Stone announced today that the province was moving ahead with $14 million worth of service reductions on northern and minor routes, reductions that will take place effective April 28. But what exactly those reductions will look like remain unclear as the Ministry and BC Ferries will be working with community leaders and BC Ferries to finalize the schedule before publicly releasing them in March.

“The decision to go ahead with service reductions was a tough one, one of the toughest I have had to make, but it is one piece of a strategy … we e need to align service levels with demand,” said Stone during a Feb. 5 media call, noting he is under no illusions there will be no impact to the coast.

“There will be impacts in every coastal community, no question about it, but fees cannot continue to rise. Taxpayers … have contributed $200 million to the coastal ferry service, so there is no more room there.”

The initial proposal for ferry cuts for the North Coast called for the Prince Rupert to Port Hardy Inside Passage be have 39 fewer sailings in 2014, a reduction of 32 per cent, while there would be one less sailing per week between Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii, a reduction of 27.2 per cent. Between the two routes, BC Ferries expected to save a combined $5.72 million per year.

Following the release of the proposed schedules, the government undertook a major consultation process that included hearing from more than 3,700 people and receiving more than 2,700 feedback forms. While the cuts are going ahead, Stone said that information will be incorporated.

“There will be a number of dramatic changes made to the schedules released back in November as we work on finalizing the schedules in the coming month and those will all be based on the feedback from the consultation process,” he said.

Tourism Prince Rupert chair Scott Farwell said he wasn’t surprised by the announcement after having “attended too many BC Ferry consultations to believe we can have any meaningful say”, but said Wednesday’s announcement and further delaying a final scheduled for the northern routes will only further impact tourism in the region.

“I don’t know how much more poorly they could have managed the situation. To say ‘we’re going to make cuts’ then go out and consult only to come back and proceed with the cuts and the last thing they say is ‘we’re not sure what we’re going to do and we won’t let you know what we’re doing until right before the change’ … I thought we were better organized as a province to handle these major changes that are going to affect so many people,” he said, noting it may already be too late to salvage the BC Ferries tourism season.

“Really, the damage was done when they first made the announcement in November. As soon as you put that out there, it puts the scare into the international tourism industry and people start to make other plans.”