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

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