VICTORIA – BC Ferries sailing reductions to save $18.9 million will go ahead largely as announced last year, with some "refining" to come after hearing public concerns, Transportation Minister Todd Stone said Wednesday.
Stone released the final report on consultation with coastal communities, confirming that despite public objections, low-utilization sailings on minor routes across the system will be stopped by April 28. Final schedules are to be released by the end of March.
Stone said some routes have the option of eliminating mid-day sailings so they can retain early-morning and late evening routes used by people going to work or taking in events. BC Ferries will meet with community representatives to examine those options, although Stone acknowledged that union contracts restrict possible savings from splitting up the service day.
Surveys showed most opposed, but seniors will lose their long-standing free ride on Monday through Thursday sailings. BC Ferries will also go ahead with a pilot program of slot machines on one of the major routes, another idea panned by most of the public.
Stone said "tough decisions" were necessary to maintain the long-term viability of the ferry service, which has seen declining ridership, rising fares and a federal and provincial subsidy that reached $200 million this year.
"None of this should come as a surprise," he said.
Stone cited examples of unsustainable ferry service, including a Monday night sailing from Skidegate to Alliford Bay that averages one passenger and one vehicle.
NDP ferry critic Claire Trevena said cutting mid-day sailings to save morning and evening runs isn't much of a solution, because it shifts traffic to peak times where ferries may be overloaded.
"It's going back to communities to say, OK, do you want to lose your left hand or your right hand," Trevena said.
The only significant route change announced as a result of public objections is an increase of the summer sailing from Bella Coola to Bella Bella from one run a week to three. BC Ferries is going ahead with elimination of the run from Port Hardy to the central coast, which has been marketed as a circle tour from the Lower Mainland to Vancouver Island to the B.C. Interior.
BC Ferries issued a statement saying it will announce another customer response survey next week.
The government's consultation report is posted here.