Province restoring ferry service to coastal communities

Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure

BC Government Press Release

Friday, February 22 2019

The BC NDP Government is buying back 2,700 sailings that were cut from the schedules of 10 minor ferry routes by the BC Liberal Government in 2014.

This includes the Gabriola-Nanaimo route (known officially as Route #19).

As to which sailings will be added into the Gabriola route, that detail has not yet been worked out.

Claire Trevena, BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI), made the announcement about the restoration of sailings this past Friday, February 22.

She said the idea is to bring back sailing schedules to where they were prior to the 2014 cuts - but the exact details will need to be worked out between BC Ferries and individual Ferry Advisory Committees (FACs).

Steve Earle, Chair of the Gabriola FAC, welcomed the news, but was not able to say what sailings would be coming back into the Gabriola schedule.

He and other FAC chairs met over the phone with BC Ferries staff on Monday, February 25.

He said BC Ferries staff, “are still working with the Ministry to finalize the service restoration plans and so we don’t now right now what proportion of the services cut on any of the 10 routes (including Gabriola-Nanaimo) will be restored.

“They did say that they plan to have those extra sailings in place by May 1 and possibly sooner.”

Heather O’Sullivan, current member of the FAC, was a key member of those protesting the 2014 sailing cutbacks. She and Gabriola photographer Vanessa Haentjens Dekker organized Faces of the Cuts, a photographic essay of Gabriola islanders in reaction to the cuts.

O’Sullivan said that in reading the news this past Friday, “I actually cried when I got the news about the restored sailings. 

“When the Liberals pushed through the 2014 cuts they broke a long-standing social contract with coastal communities. The impact was devastating. 

“Islanders have been fighting for years to see service restored to pre-2014 levels. It’s early days yet and much remains to be seen about how this will play out in terms of actual schedules and hours of service, but right now this feels like a victory.”

Prior to 2014, the schedule started with a sailing at 5:25 a.m. leaving Gabriola, and ended with an 11:30 p.m. sailing leaving Nanaimo.

The current schedule runs from 6:15 a.m. out of Gabriola ending with an 11:00 p.m. sailing from Nanaimo.

Trevena said the cost of restoring those 2,700 sailings was being borne by her Ministry at a cost of $5.8 million.

“We’re paying $5.8 million to reinstate these services because people need them. People were hurt. The sailings were cut in 2014 without consideration for people in those communities.

“Unlike the BC Liberals, we care about coastal communities, and [we] live in, and want to invest in, coastal communities.”

MOTI staff confirmed the $5.8 million is a “per fiscal year” cost and that the Coastal Ferry Act is being amended to reflect that cost to keep the funding in place for future years.

Trevena said, “Quality, affordable ferry services are a necessity, not a luxury, for people in coastal communities. That’s why we’ve turned the ship around - first by rolling back ferry fares on small coastal routes and now by reversing cuts to services that were making it difficult for people to get around.”

Darin Guenette, Communications Manager with BC Ferries, said BCF will be working with the individual Ferry Advisory Committees as soon “as we can sort out what it is we need to all analyze.”

On the still-to-be-decided list:

- How many round-trips are intended to be added back to Route #19.

- What the new schedule will look like.

- When can the new schedule be implemented.

Guenette said there is no timeline as to when the changes will take place, but “we are free to work with the communities to add the sailings ‘as soon as makes sense.’”

He added that he suspects there will be an engagement with the community (Gabriola) to figure out what the new schedule could look like - but what form that engagement will take has not been decided on.

Whatever schedule is established for the Quinsam, Guenette said there will be another schedule rework done when the 70-vehicle Quinsam is replaced by two 50-vehicle ferries. That changeover is still scheduled to take place in 2021.

The Minister announced these service changes and released the Redlin Report, a comprehensive operating review of the coastal ferry service that identifies opportunities to improve services under the current model.

Trevena said, “The Redlin Report was very comprehensive with more than 60 recommendations directed to all parties working under the unique and complex coastal ferry governance model.” 

The document was written by Blair Redlin, special advisor. 

One of Redlin’s recommendations is to establish a long-term vision for ferries and to connect coastal communities in a more integrated manner. 

Redlin also recommended the establishment of a Coastal Advisory Council (CAC) to advise the government on ferry-related issues (and other issues).

The CAC will not replace the local Ferry Advisory Committees nor the Ferry Advisory Chairs Committee, but rather augment what those organizations do under a larger umbrella involving representatives from Chambers of Commerce, municipalities and industry.

The government says it improved ferry service in  April last year by providing funding to BC Ferries to reduce fares on the smaller and northern routes by 15 per cent, freeze fares on the major routes and reinstate the Monday - Thursday 100 per cent discount for seniors’ passenger fares. 

Fares will continue to be frozen this year.

Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson, and Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley, welcomed the restoration of  the sailings to increase ferry service on Route #19 between Nanaimo and Gabriola, and Route #5 between Crofton and Vesuvius, reversing service cuts made by the previous BC Liberal Government.

Malcolmson said, “As a resident of Gabriola, I know firsthand how important ferries are to the health and economy of our coastal communities.

“I fought relentlessly against the BC Liberal service cuts in 2014, so I am proud that our government is restoring service on minor routes. And re-establishing the Coastal Ferry Stakeholder panel will make sure our ferry service is working for and with coastal communities.”     

Routley said, “The BC Liberals’ reckless ferry cuts and overall mismanagement had a devastating impact on ferry-dependent communities, especially coastal Indigenous communities.

“I am proud to be part of a government that recognizes ferries as an extension of the highway system, and that is working hard to restore affordable, reliable ferry service.”

The Redlin Report also had several recommendations for the BC Government to have new ferries built in BC, rather than offshore.

Trevena said the government is obviously concerned with offshore procurement of ferries, and is looking at the recommendations as to how it might be able to better invest in shipyards and communities.

The report recommended eliminating the post-retirement benefit to the BC Ferries CEO.

Trevena said she supported that recommendation.

She also delved into the report’s recommendations on looking ahead to how BC Ferries may need to evolve to meet the needs of communities for the next 100 years.

Whether that’s passenger-only ferries, or other ways of transporting people and goods and vehicles.

As to the current plan BC Ferries has in place for vessel replacement, Trevena said that would continue as scheduled for now, but she said there’s a risk involved, in that the plan is to replace vessels for a system that’s been in operation for a hundred years.

“We have to look at what we’re going to need for the next hundred years. We have to ask how we’re going to evolve to the next stage.”

Asked if the Redlin Report would put to bed any question of the ferry system being restored to the highways ministry, Trevena said that “what this report does is show how important the service is to people. 

“What we’ve done is really acting on people’s demands for service. That’s why we rolled back fares on minors and froze on majors. We’ve been able to keep those in place.

“Now we’re able to reinstate services cut by the previous government; that too is righting a wrong for the last number of years.

“Now we’re looking at how to make BCF more accountable. Make sure people are front and centre in decisions made for the evolution of our marine highway.”

The Redlin Report cost was $350,000, of which Redline received $86,000; the rest went to consultants and staff.

A link to the entire Redlin Report is available by clicking here.