BC Local News: Bleak summer for coastal ferry remake

There was an uproar in the B.C. legislature this spring when Transportation Minister Todd Stone went ahead with $19 million in cuts to low-usage coastal ferry routes.

The plan had been laid out in detail before last year’s election. It targeted sailings where ridership was in the low teens or even single digits. On some sailings the Transport Canada-mandated crew outnumbered the passengers.

Despite the cries of doom, most of the sailing reductions have been managed – with one glaring exception. The Discovery Coast Circle Tour route saw its ferry from Port Hardy to Bella Coola replaced, using the smallest vessel in the BC Ferries fleet, the open-decked Nimpkish.

Read the rest at BC Local News.

Posted in Update

The Province: B.C.’s transportation minister reveals a heart of Stone over impact of high ferry fares

B.C.’s transportation minister isn’t very impressed with a new report on the economic damage inflicted by skyrocketing ferry fares.

“Irresponsible,” Todd Stone called the report commissioned by the Union of B.C. Municipalities, which argued that plummeting ferry use has cost the province more than $2 billion in lost economic activity.

Stone, who thinks people stopped taking the ferry for reasons other than 75-per-cent fare hikes, outlined his complaints about the “unrealistic” report in a blistering letter to the UBCM last week.

Now the people who rely on the ferries — especially ferry-dependent business owners — say they’re not very impressed with the rookie minister.

“He should be ashamed of himself,” said Jim Abram, a Quadra Island municipal councillor who has led the battle against exorbitant fare hikes.

Read the full story at The Province.

Posted in Update

Times Colonist: UBCM call for ferry changes a long shot

First, there was the out-of-left-field announcement last week that the government will study the feasibility of building a bridge to Gabriola Island from the Nanaimo region.

It’s in response to a petition signed by about 600 people, which might potentially become a record for the largest spending project with the smallest impetus.

Governments routinely ignore petitions signed by tens of thousands of people. All of a sudden, 15 per cent of Gabriola’s 4,000 souls sign one asking for a bridge and before you know it, a study is promised and will be underway this fall.

Then on Monday, B.C. Ferries announced it will convert the two biggest ships in the fleet to natural gas. It’s less dramatic, but just as major. It will take three years to convert the two Spirits, in order to save $9 million a year on the corporation’s diesel bill.

See more at The Times Colonist.

Posted in Update

Times Colonist: UBCM unlikely to alter Ferries’ course

Premier Christy Clark empathized with frustrated leaders of ferry-dependent communities Wednesday, but it was more to make up for her sulky transportation minister than to entertain ideas of a course change.

Municipal leaders commissioned an exhaustive study showing all the harm high fares are doing to the coastal economy, but Transportation Minister Todd Stone was unaccountably dismissive of the work.

He could have just received it and put it under consideration. Instead, he lambasted most of the findings and wrote a four-page reply full of hurt feelings and recriminations, even while back-handedly agreeing that high fares are a problem. If his letter was a bid to make municipal delegates think twice about disagreeing with the government’s ferry policy, it didn’t work.

See more at Times Colonist.

Posted in Update

Times Colonist: MV Nimpkish hits rough sea of reviews

The reviews are in on the MV Nimpkish. If it were a play — Voyage of the Damned, say — maybe people would have appreciated it as a gripping study of the limits of human endurance.

But it wasn’t a play. It was the B.C. government’s effort to cut costs by using a 16-car open-deck ferry — one of the smallest, oldest boats in the fleet — on the nine-hour run between Bella Bella and Bella Coola.

Judging by the feedback collected by locals who desperately need the Discovery Coast Circle Tour to succeed, there are a few tourists from around the world suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after making the trip.

Eighty pages of responses were provided to me this week by tourist operators who distributed questionnaires to visitors.

Apart from raves about the scenery and lavish praise for the friendly, helpful and efficient crew, the responses are overwhelmingly negative when it comes to the boat itself.

See more at Times Colonist

Posted in Update

Saanich News: UBCM ferry report makes for awkward talks

The annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention marks its halfway point today in Whistler, where mayors and councillors from around the province have gathered to gauge their common appetite for ensuing battles with higher levels of government.

This year’s convention will be particularly tense when Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone arrives for one-on-one meetings with various municipal leaders. Perhaps most contentious is a report commissioned by the UBCM (and its regional counterpart, the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities) and released last week that concludes B.C. missed out on about $2 billion in economic activity over the past decade because of rising BC Ferries fares.

The resulting headlines were certainly one way to begin what’s meant to be open dialogue between provincial ministers and municipal delegates. Local leaders may have felt the report would offer some leverage in the fight for infrastructure and subsidy funding.

Read the rest of the editorial at Saanich News.

Posted in Update

The Province: Transportation Minister rejects call for ferry-fare rollbacks, restoration of service to 2013 levels

B.C.’s transportation minister said the government has no plans to roll back ferry fares or to restore service to 2013 levels, despite a unanimous vote Wednesday at the Union of B.C. Municipalities to endorse a policy paper on the damaging impacts high fares are having on coastal communities and the economy.

The analysis of B.C. Ferries, which was commissioned by the UBCM and is believed to be the first of its kind, concluded that rising fares have contributed to an estimated $2.3-billion loss in economic activity and an overall 11-per-cent drop in ridership within the last decade.

In addition to the rollback, the paper further recommended that B.C. Ferries be recognized as an extension of the province’s highway system.

Read the rest at The Province.

Posted in Update

AM730: Stone trashes UBCM report on BC Ferries

The Minister of Transportation has sent a four page letter to the Union of BC Municipalities basically telling it the report they released about declining ferry traffic and its affect on the economy, is garbage.

While Todd Stone begins the letter by saying he appreciates the link between fares and ferry traffic levels, he then launches into shredding the report itself.

Stone says the author overstated lost ferry traffic, amount of ridership declines, the impact to the GDP, and the overall conclusion of a 2.3 billion dollar hit to the economy.

The rest of the report can be found at AM730.

Posted in Update

Huffington Post BC: Report Exposes Government Mismanagement Of B.C. Ferries

A new report released by the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) seriously questions the decisions of the provincial government to decrease ferry service and rapidly increase fares over the past decade.

The study shows mismanagement of the ferry system has cost the B.C. GDP an estimated $2.3 billion and as a result, all levels of government have lost an estimated $610 million in revenue. Fare hikes since 2003 have caused an 11 per cent decrease in ridership, as opposed to an estimated 19 per cent increase had the government kept fare increases to the rate of inflation.

It is troubling that all of could have been averted had the government completed a basic socio-economic impact assessment.

Read the rest at Huffington Post.

Posted in Update

Globe & Mail: Transportation minister promises to keep BC Ferries fare hike in line with inflation

British Columbia’s transportation minister is promising to hold BC Ferries rate increases to the level of inflation starting in 2016 – the best deal he can offer coastal communities outraged over fares and service cuts.

Canada’s inflation rate was 2.1 per cent, according to figures released earlier this month. Fare hikes on BC Ferries have been limited to about 4 per cent since 2012, with the next hike set for 2015.

See the rest of the article at The Globe and Mail.

Posted in Update