Frustration bubbled at the conference table and in the audience as the Southern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee (SSCFAC) gathered with senior representatives of BC Ferries in Gibsons on Sept. 20 for their biannual meeting.
The mid-afternoon meeting was open to the public and more than 40 citizens attended.
Relations between Sunshine Coast residents and BC Ferries have been far from smooth sailing this summer and the tensions were magnified by BC Ferries’ cancellation of 32 sailings on Route 3 over September and October.
At the beginning of the meeting, Diana Mumford, chairperson of the committee said, “The impact of BC Ferries’ decision to reduce Route 3 service has been an unmitigated disaster. Ferry users face long waits, some in excess of seven hours and lost opportunities to attend medical appointments, get to work, deliver goods and services and participate in events.”
She added that these cancellations have amounted to 9,000 potential vehicle spaces on ferries being lost.
Annie Wise, another FAC member, highlighted that the Sunshine Coast does not have the amenities and services that Vancouver Island does. “They have multiple routes that if in an emergency, or for any other number of reasons, they could opt for,” said Wise. “We do not have that choice unless you want to go up to Powell River, across the island and that's not an option.”
“It’s inadequate service all year long, it's getting worse and worse."
“All the stats, on-time performance, capacity and overloads are getting consistently worse, year after year. The numbers are there,” Wise said. “And yet, it's our route that gets pulled, it's our route that suffers. Every single member of this community relies on that ferry.”
Where is the Queen of Coquitlam?
The committee asked BC Ferries representatives why the Queen of Coquitlam isn’t being used to service the shortfall in sailings while the Coastal Renaissance is out for repairs.
Captain Claudiu Raduta, marine superintendent for the SSCFAC, explained a ferry refit is a complete recertification of safety measures and cannot be rushed.
“For example, the evacuation system has to be pulled out and replaced with a new one when you recertify, also fire fighting equipment, and so on,” he said.
Raduta added that all the annual ferry recertification cycles are synchronized, explaining that the Queen of Coquitlam was set for refit long ago, and that taking it out of refit now will cause compounding delays lasting into the Christmas season.
He later included that the Queen of Coquitlam would return from refit on Oct. 2, when it will begin sea trials.
The Langdale to Horseshoe Bay route is not scheduled to receive an additional ferry until 2029.
Could a ferry be diverted from another route?
The FAC highlighted that the Langdale to Horseshoe Bay route gets eight round-trips daily, while between the Tsawwassen-Duke Point and Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay routes, Nanaimo receives 16 daily.
Wise asked BC Ferries if it would be possible to move one round trip per day from the Departure Bay route to the Sunshine Coast route.
Steve Anderson, BC Ferries manager of fleet deployment and scheduling, said, “I certainly will take away the question about can we pinch a round trip from Route 2 [Nanaimo] in order to divert to Route 3 [Langdale] for the 1730 [5:30 p.m.].”
Anderson highlighted some of the difficulties in switching routes such as pre-existing reservations and clearances for the onboard crews.
He added that the 5:30 p.m. sailing will return to Route 3 Monday to Friday following Thanksgiving.
Mumford asked, “What suggestions do you have for what has been happening this month?”
Karen Johnston, executive director of communications and engagement for BC Ferries, responded by describing the year as “a confluence of situations that were unexpected and have had consequences.”
She continued, “The decisions that were made were not done in any kind of arbitrary way or to unfairly impact any one route. Although I recognize that, folks in your community might feel that way.”
Throughout the meeting, FAC members and residents in attendance reiterated that these decisions follow a long-time trend where Coasters get the short end of the stick from BC Ferries.
Leading up to the meeting, Mumford said she reached out to Nicolas Jimenez, BC Ferries president and chief executive officer, about the issues relating to reductions in service.
Mumford read out part of Brian Anderson, BC Ferries’ vice president of strategy and community engagement's response: “You or your team may have to increase communication to advise residents and users of the service how best to navigate the peak travel periods to avoid the long queues as much as possible.”
“Brian talks about how we should come up with a message. Our message is don't come to the Sunshine Coast, because you might not make it and you probably won't get home,” said Mumford.
Jordan Copp is the Coast Reporter’s civic and Indigenous affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said there were 16 Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay Sailings. There are in fact eight daily on that route and a total of 16 between the Lower Mainland and Nanaimo.