Province to launch coastal ferry review in January

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, December 19 2017

In January 2018, the Province will begin a comprehensive review of the coastal ferry service in British Columbia to evaluate its performance in meeting the needs of ferry users and British Columbia’s coastal communities.

This review will identify what improvements can be made to the existing model and the Coastal Ferry Services to better serve that end.

According to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure press release, the review will not consider bringing BC Ferries back into government. 

Nor is there any mention in either the press release or the terms of reference for the review to include any public consultation.

Leanne Flood, Public Affairs Officer with MOTI, sent an email on behalf of the Ministry saying the review lead can seek input from ferry-related stakeholders as deemed necessary.  

“While there’s no direct public consultation planned, the Ministry will also welcome public submissions that could help inform the review. Any input received will be forwarded to the review’s lead.”

The Ministry did not provide any particular communication method for making public submissions to the review. 

Steve Earle, Chair of the Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC), said the FAC welcomes the review.

“We hope that Blair Redlin, who will be running the process, will make every effort to listen to those most affected by the ferry service. There is no mention of public input in the announcement, and we haven’t heard from any other source that there will (or won’t) be an opportunity for that.

“But I know that the Gabriola FAC will do whatever is necessary to make sure that Mr. Redlin is aware of the significant issues faced by Gabriola ferry users. The FAC Chairs group will do the same. FAC members will be meeting next week, and discussion of this announcement will be on the agenda.”

Gabriola Island Trustee Heather O’Sullivan sits on the FAC and was a key Gabriola organizer in protesting the major service cuts made in 2014.

She said, “Now is the time for us to be proactive, and make sure our voices are heard loud and clear. 

“Even though the Province has currently rejected the possibility of scrapping the Coastal Ferry Act or making BCF a Crown Corporation again, this review is still a significant opportunity to inject a greater sense of social responsibility into the model, especially given that everything from service levels to fares and capital spending are said to be on the table. 

“I’m hopeful that the process is an opportunity to drive home the fact that BC Ferries represents a social contract, and the service it provides is integral to the health and viability of coastal communities.”

MLA Doug Routley said this is the next step in keeping a promise made to coastal communities to deal with ferry issues.

He referenced the reductions in fares which will be coming in April 2018, saying that was just one step.

“We also promised to find a way to save money in a sustainable way.

“This will examine the whole organization for efficiency, and ensure it is satisfying its purpose most effectively, given the resources it has.”

Finding more efficiencies, according to Routley, could mean looking for route-specific solutions, rather than the system-wide brush that the corporation has traditionally applied.

At the last FAC meeting, islanders were critical of the NDP’s choice to make all minor route ferries cheaper and, on weekdays, free for seniors.

For the Gabriola route, the FAC members contend, this will mean an increase on sailings which are already full.

Routley said, “I guess that’s how we’re looking at it - we’re asking whether this [BC Ferries] is achieving the goals.”

The review is expected to cost approximately $250,000, inclusive of all fees for technical expertise, research and analysis under the terms of reference to support the review process.

According to the terms of reference, the review will:

* Examine whether the contracted ferry services are being provided for in a manner that supports the public interest.

* Consider what changes to the price cap and regulatory model would ensure the ferry system is working as efficiently and effectively as possible for all British Columbians and, in particular, for the ferry users and communities who depend on this essential service.

* Identify opportunities and recommend actions to enhance ferry service delivery and/or reduce costs without impacting existing service.

The Province has appointed Blair Redlin, former Deputy Minister of Transportation and former CEO of the BC Transportation Financing Authority, as a special adviser to oversee the review. Redlin will report to the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure with a final report to be delivered to government by June 2018.

In addressing these matters, the reviewer will:

• review previous relevant studies and reports;

• seek input from or interview the BC Ferries Commissioners, the BC Ferry Authority Board, the BC Ferries Board of Directors, BC Ferries’ senior staff, and Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure staff, and others as determined by the reviewer; and,

• oversee and engage with technical experts who may be required and retained by the reviewer to conduct detailed studies, research and analysis (e.g., financial review including debt management), as deemed appropriate to support the review process.