Thrown Under the Ferry

News Flash: As of April 30 the Summer Trial has been cancelled.

There’s been a huge outcry against the SCRD for “approving” BC Ferries’ summer reservations trial (see Coast Reporter article), so here’s some background.

Over the last few weeks BC Ferries (BCF) held a number of meetings with local governments (including Sechelt, Gibsons and qathet [Powell River] Regional District), with the business community, the Ferry Advisory Committee and with the “Ahead Together” service review committee, about their proposed trial program. Many many questions were asked.

BCF wrapped up by making a round of council meetings asking for an endorsement, which they received from all local governments and committees including the Town of Gibsons (April 20), District of Sechelt (April 21) and SCRD (April 22). Then, for some perverse reason, BCF unilaterally issued a press release that made it sound as if the SCRD (alone!) had “approved” their pilot project.

Within an hour SCRD phones started ringing off the hook, and we were deluged with angry (and abusive) email and social media commentary.

Let me be clear. BC Ferries does not need local government approval for their decisions about ferry service, any more than Premier Horgan needed our approval for Site C.

It is BC Ferries’ responsibility to engage with their entire customer base and take travellers’ needs into account. Accordingly, the SCRD issued a news release on April 23 saying “The SCRD Board, along with other local governments from the Town of Gibsons and District of Sechelt are asking for immediate action from BC Ferries to ensure that feedback provided from the community in the past 24-hours is taken into consideration.”

As annoyed as I am right now, I do personally support the trial, and here’s why. The present system is a wreck. When I read that elderly people are forced to pee into bottles in their cars because they are stuck on a highway for hours with no accessible washrooms, I feel that it’s an intolerable situation.

We are at least 5 years away from getting a second full time ferry on our route, so it makes sense to try to make better use of existing capacity. Before Covid, BCF was poised to spend billions upgrading their “vehicle holding compounds” and adding more vessels just to manage peak demand for car travel.

This is an opportunity to examine whether the model can be improved, even on a temporary basis. And it can’t just be a paper exercise, we actually have to try it out in the real world to find out whether it works.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, and that appears to be the ferry service model we’re using now. While I’m sure it’s possible to make a terrible situation still worse, I am hoping for improvements, and I am willing to put up with some personal inconvenience to test out alternatives.

I want to make it very clear that it’s not my job to explain or defend BC Ferries. They have a whole big staff to do that, all of whom are paid a lot more than I am. Please read the material on their website and contact them with your questions and concerns.

Brian Anderson
Vice President, Strategy and Community Engagement
British Columbia Ferry Services Inc.
Suite 500 – 1321 Blanshard Street, Victoria, BC V8W 0B7
T: 250-978-1276

Having said that, if BCF’s new program fails to address particular concerns that will have a broad impact on our community, local governments will step up to advocate with them.

Finally, I sincerely hope that BC Ferries can manage a pilot program better than they managed this public announcement. Otherwise we’re all sunk.

UPDATE: More information on the Trial has been (belatedly) posted by BC Ferries HERE. This includes a Q&A.

Posted by Donna