BC Ferries launches on-line survey on service changes

BC Ferries has now launched its own on-line customer survey on the proposed schedule change. Essentially, they’re asking “which do you prefer, the government’s proposed cuts or ours?” If you respond to this survey, make sure you tell them about any concerns you have with their latest proposed schedule by clicking “yes” to the question   “Do you have any comments related to the proposed schedule changes on this route?”.

The FAC believes that some further adjustment will be needed to make the new schedule work; if you do too, make sure you tell BC Ferries so. You can find the survey at http://www.bcferries.com/about/publicconsultation2/2014_service_Level_adjustments/

BCF Survey ad

BC Ferries responds to government statement

BC FERRIES TO IMPLEMENT SCHEDULE REFINEMENTS APRIL 28, 2014 AFTER GATHERING FEEDBACK VIA ONLINE AND TELEPHONE SURVEYS

VICTORIA – Following the provincial government’s release of the Coastal Ferries Consultation and Engagement summary report and their final decision regarding service level reductions, BC Ferries announced today the company will engage with the affected communities regarding schedule refinements, so that finalized schedules can be implemented by April 28, 2014.

In an effort to obtain as much meaningful feedback as possible on ferry schedule refinements from the communities affected, BC Ferries has committed to soliciting public opinion regarding sailing schedule options through online and telephone surveys. These draft options take into consideration feedback heard during the recent engagement process and will be designed to demonstrate operationally feasible schedules that meet the targeted savings for service reductions.  These options will be made available mid next week along with an announcement to inform customers how to provide their feedback.

“Now that the Province has made their final determination on service levels, BC Ferries needs to move forward to implement schedule adjustments,” said Mike Corrigan, BC Ferries’ President and CEO. “We want to work with the communities we serve on the sailing schedule refinement options to ensure the optimal sailing times are determined while still achieving the net savings outlined by the Province.”

Based on the online and telephone feedback on the draft schedules, BC Ferries will meet with community leaders, including Ferry Advisory Committee members, to discuss the feedback received in order to implement the revised schedules for April 28, 2014.

BC Ferries will announce the specifics of the online survey mid next week when details are finalized.

Ferry cuts to go ahead on April 28 – Minister Todd Stone

At a news conference today, Minister Todd Stone confirmed that reductions in coastal ferry services would go ahead on April 28, following meetings between BC Ferries and designated community groups to refine the proposed schedules. His full statement said:

VICTORIA – The government of B.C. has reviewed the 2013 B.C. Coastal Ferries Engagement Summary Report, which was made public today.

 The Province confirms $18.9 million in service reductions will be implemented beginning this spring to better align service levels to demand. Government also is proceeding with a reduction in the seniors’ discount, and will pursue a gaming pilot project.

These changes are in keeping with government’s vision of a coastal ferry system that is affordable, efficient and sustainable, while protecting basic services.

Taxpayers have provided an additional $86.6 million to BC Ferries to 2016 to help reduce the pressure on fares. That brings provincial and federal funding to over $200 million this year and to $1.7 billion over the last 10 years to support coastal ferry services. As well, BC Ferries is on track to find $54 million in efficiency improvements  to 2016.

That leaves $18.9 million in net savings necessary over the next two years to meet the requirements under the current price cap. BC Ferries is reducing service on the minor and northern routes, which will account for $14 million in net savings. These service adjustments will be implemented beginning April 28.

BC Ferries will meet with designated community representatives to refine the schedules on the affected minor and northern routes, taking into account the community input received during engagement. For example, on some routes, there are opportunities to eliminate mid-day sailings in favour of retaining early morning or late evening sailings. The final schedules will be made public by the end of March.

BC Ferries will also implement further changes to the major routes (Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, Tsawwassen to Duke Point and Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay) prior to April 2016 to achieve

$4.9 million in savings. BC Ferries will be undertaking the analysis to develop these potential service reductions. Minor and northern routes will not be affected by these changes.

With respect to Route 40, government and BC Ferries are responding to issues raised by Bella Coola residents during the engagement by expanding the summer connector service. This service between Bella Coola and Bella Bella will increase from one sailing per week to three to four sailings per week in the summer, using the MV Nimpkish. This will also help mitigate the tourism impacts while the industry develops new options for circle tours.

Effective April 1, seniors (65 and older) travelling Monday to Thursday on major and minor routes will pay a half-price passenger fare. Currently, B.C. taxpayers cover the full cost of their passenger fare. Government will continue to provide the same level of funding to BC Ferries. The additional revenue from seniors’ passenger fares will help reduce pressure for future fare increases, benefitting all ferry users. Seniors currently pay full price for their vehicle, and will continue to do so.

Government is pursuing a gaming pilot project on one of BC Ferries’ major routes and revenues would be directed to reduce pressure on future fare increases.

More than 3,700 people participated in public meetings during the engagement process that ended last December, with 2,300 feedback forms and over 1,300 written submissions received by government.

Long term, the Government of B.C. and BC Ferries will continue to explore strategies to support an affordable and sustainable ferry system beyond 2016. This will include looking at standardized and no-frills vessels, LNG propulsion, other alternative technologies, a new reservation and point-of-sale system, increased operational efficiencies and seeking federal infrastructure funding to renew the fleet and terminals.

Alternative ferry schedule proposals are published

The Gabriola Ferry Working Group (which includes the Ferry Advisory Committee, the Transportation Advisory Commission, our three elected officials, and representatives of the Gabriola Chamber of Commerce and the Gabriola Arts Council) has been working on alternative schedules that we think come close to achieving the government’s financial targets, but will not have the severe negative impacts of the cuts that the government has proposed.  Meanwhile, BC Ferries have now made public an alternate proposal for the Gabriola route that addresses some of the concerns that islanders have expressed.  This proposal does meet the financial targets set for them by government.

“The BC Ferries proposal stretches the operating day significantly from what we saw in December” said FAC Chair, John Hodgkins. “However, the resultant schedule introduces several short gaps in service during the day to minimise the amount of time that has to be paid at enhanced pay rates”  We foresee some issues with overloading in summer; a problem which the working group had identified in its discussions.

The BC Ferries Schedule and the two Community suggestions can be viewed here.  Both of our suggested options preserved the existing late evening sailings and early morning weekend sailings, both involved slowing the ferry down to save fuel, and both had reduced hours for the on-board crew and the Nanaimo terminal staff.  Both included an early-afternoon gap in service, but in each case that gap was filled with an extra sailing to meet traffic demand on weekdays during the busy summer months.

“Our first option focussed on reducing staff costs, while the second was focussed on reducing fuel consumption” said Steven Earle, who chairs the Transportation Advisory Commission.  “The modified BC Ferries proposal is similar in many ways to our first option, although it has slightly later starting times in the morning, slightly earlier end times at the end of the day, no very early service on Saturday and Sunday and no extra mid-day sailings in the summer.”

“BC Ferries have told us that the community options won’t meet their financial targets, and they will be reluctant to accept either one for that reason.  That doesn’t mean that we can’t put them forward, and perhaps we can find some middle ground between theirs and ours when we meet with them sometime during February”.

We are looking for feedback from Gabriolans.  Do BC Ferries’ proposals meet your needs for travel to and from Nanaimo?  If you think they will create hardships for you (or your customers), please explain why.   Which of these three suggested options would work best for you – and if that option increases operating costs, how should that increase be funded?

For more detail on the proposed schedule and to provide feedback, please go to our  Proposed Schedules  page and click on “Leave a Reply”, or send an e-mail to gabriola.fac@gmail.com .  The closing date for receipt of comments for consideration by the working group is February 14.

Advisors demand more time to consider ferry options following government block on release of information

Representatives of ten coastal Ferry Advisory Committees (FACs) met with BC Ferries’ management this week to learn how government proposes to help communities refine the planned $14 million service reductions announced last November.  Gabriola FAC Chair John Hodgkins,  a member of the recently formed Gabriola Ferry Service Advisory Group, confirmed that the outcome of the meeting set new challenges for ferry advisors who had been asking since early December for more information to help communities develop alternative options.

FAC Chairs heard after the meeting Tuesday that no further figures would be released by government or BC Ferries as the information would “typically not be provided under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act”.  The news broke by email from Assistant Deputy Minister, Kevin Richter, while the meeting was still taking place. FAC Chairs were not impressed.  Ferry Advisory Committees had been given no advance notice that government would be handing over the task of negotiating with BC Ferries to review schedules to minimise damage to coastal communities.  Government has spent more than $1 million on professional consultancy and made no effort to consider social or economic impacts. Now they expect community volunteers to take the flack.  “That’s rich, even for this government” said Hodgkins.

Not surprisingly, some FACs were undecided on whether to take on the task at all, while others (including Gabriola and the Northern Sunshine Coast) have formed alliances with other community representatives to strengthen their ability to engage with their communities.

Monday’s meeting with BC Ferries brought no new information to the table, so now we have to consider the best way forward, said Hodgkins. BC Ferries have been given a clear direction by government – continue working towards implementation of service cuts on April 1, 2014.  “We either engage with the corporation now, or we will likely miss the opportunity to have any influence over the outcome” warns Hodgkins.

Transport Advisory Commission Chair, Steven Earle, said “In effect, the government is inviting us to a round of blindfolded target practice. They want us to make suggestions for alternative solutions, but aren’t willing to give us the information needed to determine if our solutions will meet their savings objectives. Then they’ll inform us we’ve missed the target.”

Advisory Groups insist that government has to allow more time for local consultation to be completed. “Rushing through cuts on April 1 will be devastating for ferry-dependent communities” said Hodgkins. “We know that BC Ferries have already drawn up some alternatives, so now we must bring our own ideas to the table and share those with our local community without delay.”  Ferry Advisory Committees are committed to seeing the process through – albeit reluctantly – and advisory groups now have to decide how best to take that forward.

Gabriola FAC and the Islands Trust have called upon government to delay any changes to ferry services for at least six months to limit the damage to island economies and tourism, and to provide adequate time for communities to give consider possible alternative solutions.

Ferry advisors prepare for talks with BC Ferries

During November and December, Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee worked collaboratively with members of the Islands Trust’s Transportation Advisory Commission here on Gabriola to develop its response to the 2013 Coastal Ferry Engagement process. As part of that response, we committed to maintaining a dialogue with BC Ferries and the government through a wider, more representative stakeholder group including participation from local government, the business sector and other community interests.

At a meeting on January 7, we duly established an ad-hoc ferry service advisory group for Gabriola, setting to record our expectations from government and BC Ferries for the forthcoming dialogue aimed at identifying alternative service options that will be less damaging to our community.

In readiness for the forthcoming meeting between Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs and BC Ferries’ management on January 21, we have also identified a series of questions that we will need to have answered for that forthcoming dialogue to be conducted in a genuine and meaningful way.

There is inevitably much opposition to ferry cuts here on Gabriola and, as we have evidenced in our various submissions to government, the proposals defined in the Community Engagement documents are ill-prepared and potentially highly damaging to the economy and community of Gabriola. However, we acknowledge that something needs to be done to address the deepening financial spiral into which our coastal ferry system is slipping and in the medium/long term we believe that fundamental change will be needed to the Coastal Ferry Act to make our lifeline ferry services sustainable.

In the short term, we recognise that government has committed to continuing dialogue through FACs and stakeholder groups in affected communities with the objective of identifying alternative service measures that would be less damaging to community life. Here on Gabriola, the ferry service advisory group has undertaken to participate in that dialogue, providing there is a genuine commitment from both government and BC Ferries to be responsive to our community’s needs.

We believe there are ways of achieving financial savings on Route 19 between Gabriola Island and Nanaimo, balancing the needs of the community with the financial targets set by government. The solution will require a combination of fuel and labour cost savings from a revision of the current schedule that will minimise impact on those who depend on the early morning and late evening services for their businesses, work patterns, learning opportunities and health support as well as social and leisure activities.

The questions posed in our submission to BC Ferries are designed to help facilitate that discussion in a positive and meaningful way. Our aim is to be able to canvass opinion within the community over the coming weeks to arrive at a solution that achieves the desired financial outcomes with the minimum of impact on the community. In order to do that, it is essential that we have a clear indication of the potential financial consequences of a range of alternatives that we are currently exploring.

Most importantly from the perspective of government is the need to allow time for this process to take place and to delay any pre-emptive service cuts until after the 2014 summer season. It is critical for the economic well-being of the coastal communities that the socio-economic impacts of service reductions have been adequately assessed and we therefore urge government to defer any service cuts for a minimum of six months in order for this process to take place.

Our submission to the government and BC Ferries can be downloaded here:
Gabriola ferry service advisory group submission 

John Hodgkins
Gabriola FAC Chair
on behalf of the ferry service advisory group

The true cost of the fuel surcharge : updated

Do you pay your ferry fare with an Experience Card? Most people do – in fact almost 84% of vehicle fares to and from Gabriola are paid with an Experience Card, as are almost 64% of passenger fares. (The difference is accounted for by the number of passengers who don’t pay fares - students, seniors and people travelling for medical treatment)

Remember the April 1 fares increase? The government set a 4.1% average fare cap. Vehicle fares to Gabriola increased by 4%. Passengers paying with an experience card paid 4.3% more.

Now, we are told that a fuel surcharge of 3.5% will be added from January 17. Wrong. If you pay with an Experience Card you’ll actually pay 5.4% more on a vehicle fare and 5.8% more on passenger fares. Add that to the increase last April and that’s over 10% more than you were paying this time last year.

Update : A response from BC Ferries to one FAC enquiry now suggests that the 3.5% surcharge will be applied to whatever fare is paid, so that Experience Card holders will only pay 3.5% more, not as indicated above. Other reports suggest otherwise. Full information will be published as soon as it is available. 

Further update : BC Ferries has confirmed that, contrary to an earlier statement, the 3.5% surcharge rate will be applied to both the full fare and to Experience Card Fares. Subject to rounding, the surcharge on E-Card fares will therefore be 3.5%, not as suggested above.