Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Coastal Ferries Consultation set to begin

The province of British Columbia is about to launch a nearly two month long consultation process into the long-term sustainability of the provinces coastal transportation network.

The public sessions get underway on November 6th in Sandspit, where a three hour open house is planned for the Sandsipt Community Centre, other sessions are planned for Haida Gwaii in Queen Charlotte City on November 7th and in Masset on November 8th.

The consultations then move across Hecate Strait with a two hour  Small Group Meeting session planned for Prince Rupert at the North Coast Convention Centre on November 9th.

The remainder of the schedule will go up and down the coast from Victoria to Port Hardy and many communities in between, on both the west and east sides of the Strait of Georgia.

Some background on the sessions can be found from the website dedicated to their efforts, it includes a comprehensive schedule of all the sessions and their locations.

The province is seeking solutions to the challenge of the running the ferry service, considering ways to make the service more financially self sufficient, a process that among other prospects, would seem to include the reduction of some runs up and down the coast.

BC Ferries is facing a crisis situation with higher costs, lower ridership and what seems to be an unsustainable financial picture.

So far BC Ferries has chopped 15 million dollars in costs and service cuts, but still needs to revisit all of their financial options.

One thing that seems certain, just injecting more provincial cash into the service isn't in the future, at least that's what one can glean from the final comment of the Documents and FAQ section of the consultation's web page, which offers up this telling Q and A :

Why doesn't the provincial government add an additional $26 million? 

There is a need to address the $26 million shortfall, the system overall is facing rising costs and declining ridership. Even with financial support, the service cannot continue at its present level or current prices without a significant adjustment.

Of particular interest to residents of the North Coast and Haida Gwaii will be the current financials on routes that run from Prince Rupert, Port Hardy and Skidegate, the northern runs are the most expensive of all the routes currently in place with BC Ferries, with losses of 28.6 million on the Port Hardy to Prince Rupert route and 24.2 million on the Prince Rupert to Skidegate run.

The two northern routes are not alone,  only two main routes to the south turn a profit, all other runs on the BC Ferry schedule lose money and run at far less than capacity. The Prince Rupert to Port Hardy run for instance only runs at a 40 percent capacity and features a subsidy of over 2,000 dollars per vehicle.

They are all routes that clearly can't be financed at the same level of service, on a fare based prospect alone.

Key to the discussions will be the ability of local users, residents and politicians to impress upon the consultation  panel of the importance to the region of ferry transportation and the need to find a financial blue print that allows that service to remain a vibrant part of the transportation network of the north.

For those that can't attend the public sessions, the Consultation process has made allowances for submissions by Internet, you can weigh into the discussion from this link.

The CBC provided a helpful backgrounder on the purpose of these sessions, which you can view below.

Some other reaction and background on the consultation process can be found below.

The Tyee-- BC Government asking public where to cut ferry service
QCIobserver-- Government begins open consultation on future of coastal ferries
Vancouver Sun-- BC Ferries riders asked for ideas of most pain-free cuts to aid money losing service
Victoria Times-Colonist-- B. C. Ferries studies which routes to cut
CBC.ca-- BC Ferries public hearings to focus on costs, services
CTVBC.ca-- Province seeks public input on BC Ferries

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