Public invited to May 11 FAC meeting

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 gabriola.fac@gmail.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.

Telling it like it is

“I’m not suggesting that communities and ferry advisory committees shouldn’t continue to talk to government and lobby government, but I think we have to have the balanced approach going forward so we don’t kill the marketplace.” – BC Ferries’ CEO Mike Corrigan’s words to the Coast Reporter last week. He gave a similar message in Haida Gwaii earlier this month (see In the Media)

Ferry Advisory Committees are not in the business of killing the market place. Our remit (itself dictated by BC Ferries) is to represent residents of the community in a consultative relationship to BC Ferries, and to bring forward local ferry service concerns identified by residents of the community to BC Ferries.  In other words, to tell it like it is.

As FAC members, we strive to put forward a balanced and informed view that reflects the strength of opinion in our community, whilst at the same time respecting and sharing the facts provided to us by BC Ferries.  Most of all, we recognise that many of the decisions affecting ferry fares and service levels are dictated by government and implemented (sometimes reluctantly) by BC Ferries.

Not surprisingly, Mr Corrigan’s recent statements have attracted an energetic social media reaction from coastal communities – and some frustration among Ferry Advisory Committees.

see also : Opinion

Gabriola’s new ferry schedule : Let us know what you think.

It’s early days yet and the new ferry schedule appears to be settling down, but we’d like to hear your views on how it’s working for you. The FAC will be meeting with BC Ferries in early May and it’s important that we have as much feedback as possible. How does the new schedule work for you? Is it better, or worse?  If you’d like to share your views, head over to the have your say page and tell us about your experience. Alternatively, email us at gabriola.fac@gmail.com and, with your agreement, we’ll add your comments anonymously to the website.

From time to time, the FAC independently monitors the punctuality of the ferry service, using satellite positioning data available on-line from MarineTraffic.com. The results of recent monitoring can be found on our Route 19 performance page. Over the first four days of operation, the vast majority of services have departed on time (up to a maximum 3 minutes late).  As traffic conditions have varied, so have crossing times, so when it’s less busy, crossing times of 24 or 25 minutes are more typical, compared to 20-22 minutes when more time is needed for loading and unloading. This allows the ferry to reduce speed to 7-9 knots, which provides a considerable fuel saving compared to the normal sailing speed of 10-12 knots and also reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

One point to remember is that BC Ferries requires all vehicles to be ticketed and ready to board 5 minutes before departure. Although tickets are not issued on the Gabriola side, ferries will sometimes depart 1 or 2 minutes early if everyone is on board.

Fares rise on April 1, but only by 2.9% for now.

BC Ferries has announced today that the 3.9% fare increase predicted for April 1 will, for the time being, be offset by a 1% fare rebate because of continuing low fuel prices. Most fares will therefore rise by an average of 2.9% next Wednesday.  Because of the way in which fuel rebates and surcharges have to be accounted for, the 1% fuel rebate will appear as a separate line on your ticket. The fuel rebate does not apply to fares chargeable under the BC Resident Assistance Program.

The new fares between Nanaimo and Gabriola are available now on our Fares page.

FAC Chairs react to price cap announcement

A GOOD START. A LONG, LONG WAY TO GO Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs (FACC)

20 MARCH 2015 – Chairs of BC’s Ferry Advisory Committees are encouraged by the newly announced 1.9% cap for annual average fare hikes starting in 2016. But they say the low increase fails to address the fundamental problem: the crippling level of existing fares.

The unavoidable comparison is to the hypothetical camel with the breaking back. The camel has been loaded with 50-pound bales of straw. When the breaking point is reached, there’s little joy in reducing the weight of the next bale to only 10 pounds. The 1.9% increase is that 10-pound bale of straw.

As with the camel, the ferry users’ problem is the burden that preceded the 1.9% increases. It needs to be addressed.

The extraordinary fare increases of the past decade have resulted in traffic collapsing to its lowest level since 1990. The decline in traffic, particularly since 2008, has resulted in a parallel withering of the economic and social vitality of coastal ferry dependent communities. Ferries are the lifeline service for people and for businesses. There is no alternative.

“We have watched traffic fall away as fares escalated for the past decade. Our experience tells us that ferry traffic and coastal communities will not and cannot recover until the excessive fare burden is removed,” says Brian Hollingshead, chair of the Southern Gulf Islands FAC. “This means a fare roll-back, not a modest increase.”

If the Province is serious about the economic sustainability of dozens of coastal communities, it’s time it assesses the past and future impact on these communities of the current ferry fare regime.

We recognize that fares and funding need to strike a reasonable balance between the interests of the Provincial treasury, BC Ferries and ferry users. “Yet ferry users, who contribute more than half a billion dollars a year in fares, have paid far too high a price,” says Keith Rush of Thetis-Penelakut FAC. “It’s time the load was redistributed to provide some relief for those users who have seen their fares rise as much as 120% in an 18%-inflation period.”

The Commission report shows ferry users are presently paying 100% of BC Ferries operating costs. That’s higher – much higher – than in comparable ferry systems, including Washington State Ferries and Marine Atlantic Ferries, cited in the Commissioner’s Efficiency Review.

We are at a critical juncture. We ask the Government to consider rebalancing the equation by means of a sufficient funding increase to provide a significant fare roll-back. It’s fair, it’s vital.

Ferry Fares capped at 1.9% from 2016

The BC Ferry Commissioner today set the “preliminary price cap” of a 1.9% increase on ferry fares for each of the four years 2016-2019, challenging BC Ferries to find further productivity improvements of $27.6 million by the end of the four-year Performance Term.

So what does this “preliminary price cap” mean?

Ahead of each new performance term, BC Ferries must submit forecasts of expenditure, traffic and revenue to the BC Ferry Commission, assuming existing service levels will be maintained. This information was provided by BC Ferries in December 2014, though most of the financial detail was excluded from the submission before publication.

The Ferry Commissioner’s task is to review those forecasts, making adjustments as necessary, before calculating a “preliminary price cap” that assumes government support continues at existing levels. Following a period of public consultation, government will then consider whether further action is necessary to close the gap between expenditure and anticipated fares income. Any adjustments are then taken into account before a Final Price Cap is announced by the Ferry Commission in September.

The 1.9% preliminary price cap announced today signals a welcome move towards the Transportation Minister’s commitment to achieve annual price cap increases in line with inflation. Latest CPI statistics show annual inflation close to 1.1% in BC, following the recent fall in fuel prices, so there’s still some way to go.

The Ferry Commissioner’s full statement can be downloaded here.