In the latest article on our Opinion page, FAC Chair John Hodgkins considers whether the cost of a consistent, year-round service designed around maximising reliability is a price worth paying?
The following information has been provided by BC Ferries’ Marine Superintendent as guidance on the protocols to be followed in the event of a major fire or incident on Gabriola.
BC Ferries’ default position is to maintain the normal ferry schedule unless they are instructed by Emergency Services to do otherwise. The normal schedule is already known to all of the emergency services and to most island residents.
BC Ferries’ Operations Centre in Victoria is staffed 24/7 and is their primary point of contact for all emergency authorities. From there, BC Ferries has the ability to mobilise resources to support needs of the emergency services, though it should be recognised that like most organisations, BC Ferries’ resource levels are at their lowest overnight, when crew members may need to be mobilised unexpectedly. In emergency situations, BC Ferries aims to provide an effective response within the resources they have available to them.
In the event of a major incident, BC Ferries would likely receive direction from Emergency Management BC (EMBC) that a local state of emergency was being declared and EMBC would issue direction to BC Ferries to work with local officials on how to prioritize service. In those circumstances BC Ferries would follow the direction of the emergency authorities, and those authorities would, in turn, be dependent on BC Ferries to advise on what response they are able to provide, and on any risks associated with that response.
The question of whether or not BC Ferries would be able to transport private vehicles in an emergency response situation would be a matter for the emergency authorities to determine. BC Ferries will prioritise life over assets, but recognises that the ability to move vehicles assists the movement of people on both sides. Normal practice is, however, to take foot passengers on first.
BC Ferries points out that the emergency authorities would likely ask them to suspend travel to the island for anyone other than emergency responders in the event of a major incident on the island. This means that family members already off island may not be able to return until the emergency response is concluded.
This advice will be updated with any further information received from BC Ferries.
In the latest move toward returning its Canadian operations to profitability, Greyhound Canada has announced its intention to withdraw from its Nanaimo-Campbell River and Campbell River-Port Hardy routes, but has told its regulators, the Passenger Transportation Branch of the BC government, that “it is very likely another inter-city bus operator will apply to take over the routes”.
Simultaneously, Tofino Bus Services have lodged an application to run an identical service on both routes and anticipates a start date of August 1. Tofino Bus already has an inter-line partnership with Greyhound on its Nanaimo-Victoria and Nanaimo-Tofino routes.
Details of the planned Tofino Bus services can be found here.
BC Ferries this week published its Year-End Results for Fiscal 2015, revealing the stronger financial performance for the year that underscores the Ferry Commissioner’s decision to hold future fare increases to 1.9% each year in the next performance term.
The corporation’s 5.1% increase in revenue is largely attributed to increasing vehicle and passenger traffic, especially in the final quarter of the year, when good weather boosted ferry traffic significantly compared to the dismal results in the spring of 2014. The 2014 fuel surcharge raised $13 million, but there’s no reference to how much of the extra revenue comes from the new 50% fare now paid by seniors.
Cost inflation was held at just 1.1% overall, though the underlying trend of a 5% increase in maintenance and administration confirms that the bulk of the cost savings have been achieved through lower operating expenses (fuel and labour) which fell this year by 1% – the product, no doubt, of falling fuel prices and service cuts to the minor routes.
It may be the good news that shareholders and government wanted to hear, but it’s too bad that the nine-page year end report fails to even acknowledge the April 2014 service cuts as a “significant event” for the corporation. It was certainly a significant event for Gabriola.
More reaction on the Opinion page
Each year, BC Ferries is required to commission an independent survey of customer satisfaction on a sample of 8 ferry routes, including Route 19 to and from Gabriola. The public report, which will form part of the corporation’s annual report to the BC Ferry Commissioner, was released this week and is published in full on the BC Ferries website.
The selection of Route 19 as one of four minor routes surveyed provides an eye-opening insight to the Ferry Commissioner and government of just how seriously the April 2014 service cuts have impacted on ferry users. We were not the only route to suffer cuts of course, but Route 19 stands out among the other seven routes included in the survey as the only one to have experienced a material cut in service – and the effect of those cuts is highlighted in a series of observations by the researchers, who found that satisfaction among gulf islanders had reached an all-time low. Mustel’s report says:
- Overall satisfaction levels have declined in many passenger and demographic segments with frequent travellers and gulf island residents more critical than others
- Satisfaction with terminal arrangements also dipped in most passenger and demographic segments. Most notable is [the reduced satisfaction] registered by business passengers and gulf island residents
- A total of 86% of passengers (4.07 on the 5-point scale) were satisfied with their overall experience on board, lower than the 89% recorded last year. The rating dropped slightly on Routes 5/9, but significantly on Route 19 (4.07 to 3.71).
- Satisfaction with most aspects of sailing schedules dropped in 2014, as well as the rating for on-time departures on Route 19 which has declined from 3.89 to 2.69 this measure.
- The overall satisfaction scores have been stable by route except levels have weakened on Route 19 (3.46 average score versus 4.13 in 2013)
It is rare for so many negative trends to be recorded on any individual route – but maybe Route 19 actually typifies the impact that serious ferry cuts have on ferry-dependent communities. In previous years’ surveys, Gabriolans have been amongst the most satisfied with their ferry schedule, its reliability and the ability to get on their chosen ferry. Now, in 2014, we became the least satisfied. A message we hope the government, the Ferry Commissioner and BC Ferries will take very seriously.
MAY 21, 2015 – The Ferry Advisory Committee chairs were pleased, and surprised, with the announcement of the 1.9% preliminary fare cap. Surprised, because with a nominal 2% inflationary increase in expenses, and the substantial capital program, we were expecting a much higher cap. Given the ground rules – existing service levels and assumed continuance of FY2016 service fee – we realize getting to a 1.9% fare cap was a major achievement. Any further reduction that might be considered between April and June would require additional accommodation.
Sustainability, the term, is borrowed from environmental science referring to ‘endurance of systems and processes’. We hear it referred to in terms of sustainability of the coastal ferry service, as if BC Ferries is in danger of no longer ‘enduring’. This seems to us like wondering if UBC or BC Transit or VGH or the Coquihalla Highway will ‘endure’. In fact, we believe that all four of those, as well as BC Ferries, will (and must) endure, hopefully in good health. That good health will depend primarily on adequate funding from governments and ‘customers’. All five are vital elements of the broad community infrastructure. The demise of any is inconceivable.
We are more concerned with the economic sustainability of the ferry-dependent communities served by the Minor and Northern routes, and Route 3. The ferry service is the economic life-line for these communities.
Over the past decade, we have seen the micro-economies of our once-vibrant communities slowly but steadily wither. Death by a thousand cuts. We, and local business operators, believe the rapid rise of ferry fares to unprecedented and unaffordable levels (Attachment 1) is the primary cause of the decline of most of our local economies. While the communities will likely remain on the maps, their economic sustainability is in grave danger.
Economic sustainability of coastal communities absolutely must be assessed and included in any future plans for coastal ferry service. Adequate funding and service levels must be factored into any vision that values adequate, affordable life-line transportation to and from coastal communities. – Read more
The next meeting of Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee will be held on May 11, 2015 starting at 3.30pm at the Gabriola Arts Council Hall (formerly the WI Hall) in South Road, Gabriola.
Members of the public are invited to attend this first meeting of the new committee, but are reminded that this is NOT an open house session. Should you wish to speak on a particular topic, please contact the Chair by email at email@example.com ahead of the meeting. We will try and ensure that time is available for anyone who wishes to speak.
If you are unable to attend this meeting but would like the FAC to raise a matter on your behalf, please feel free to email us with details of your question.
Topics for discussion at this FAC meeting will include:
- Welcome to new members
- Election of Chair and Vice Chair
- Feedback on new ferry schedule
- An operational update from BC Ferries
- A proposal for a demonstration project to introduce differential fares for evening travel
- A proposal for a Gabriola information kiosk to be sited at Nanaimo Harbour terminal
- Enabling a wifi hotspot at Nanaimo Harbour terminal
- The planned upgrade of Descanso Bay terminal in 2017/2018
- Changes to parking arrangements at Descanso Bay terminal to improve safety and better cater for community bus services
- Clarification of BC Ferries’ position with regard to future use of the RDN emergency wharf at Descanso Bay
- Improving FAC engagement with the community
The full agenda package put forward by the FAC is available here.