Fixes to ferry system on hold pending operational review of BC Ferries

Derek Kilbourn

Tuesday, August 29 2017

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena confirmed this past week there won’t be any further changes to BC Ferries overall operations or vessel plans until the NDP Government completes an operational review.

Currently, there are only three changes to the ferry system coming from the NDP Government.

On April 1, 2018, fares will be rolled back 15 per cent on all routes except the ones between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland; fares will be frozen on the major routes; and free passenger fares will be reinstated for seniors travelling Monday to Thursday.

Other than that, according to Trevena, starting this fall, “we’re going to be doing a review of BC Ferries - find out how it has been working over 16 years.”

Trevena said she knows there are major issues with BC Ferries, in particular this summer, when overloads have plagued almost every route.

“We have long delays at many terminals - it has been a summer of bad overloads - I live on Quadra, and I’ve never been caught in quite so many overloads as this year. There is huge pressure on the system.”

That being said, according to the Minister, the review has to look at the longer view, and ask where does BC Ferries need to be not next year, or five years from now, but 25 to 50 years from now.

Many of the ships currently are over 50 years old, and were built for a system that was already in operation for 50 years.

“So we have 100 years of the same mode of inter-island connectivity on an open-deck barge, single-occupancy vehicles. So in 50 years’ time, is this where society is going to be? I know it’s frustrating, but how do we look to the future?”

Trevena said part of the vision is that, “we want to reduce our greenhouse gases - we want to get people out of their vehicles and on as passengers - and to use public transportation at the end destination. This is the longer term vision of what we want for our marine highway system into the future.”

We have to have a vision for BC Ferries, a community-based vision.

BC Ferries has a vessel procurement program in place. At the latest Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee meeting, it was confirmed by (now) CF CEO Mark Collins that a new 100-vehicle ferry class would start arriving in 2021; Gabriola’s route is scheduled to receive one to replace the Quinsam around 2026. Almost nine BC Ferries’ fiscal years from now.

Trevena said that the procurement program is still in place, but part of the operational review will be to look at how vessels are replaced.

“We need to be replacing vessels appropriately - there is a real need for vessel replacement in the fleet. What we’re looking at with the procurement - I’ve talked to BCF CEO about this - we’re going to ensure that we’re looking at BC shipyards first - to make sure they have the capacity to build these vessels - and if not there, asking where can they be built in Canada.”

She said fixed links (bridges) are not part of the discussion. “The bridge to Gabriola was discounted some time ago - I’m not looking at fixed links to deal with the problems with BC Ferries. I’m looking at the problems with BC Ferries to look at fixing BC Ferries.

“I think we have a problem in BC Ferries.”