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The Powell River Queen makes her way into in Campbell River, B.C. April 3, 2012. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
The Powell River Queen makes her way into in Campbell River, B.C. April 3, 2012. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Your voice

Readers respond: Fixing ferry service on B.C.’s coast Add to ...

This fall, British Columbia’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is holding open houses and online consultations in communities most affected by BC Ferries as it struggles to deliver an efficient and affordable service that doesn’t bleed public funds.

While the province collects opinions in its own way, we asked for your ideas in the hopes of generating our own discussion.

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Below is a summary of the responses we received, in some cases excerpted or edited for clarity.

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“Run the small ferries on the larger route for late-night sailings. No reason not to have late-night Sunshine Coast or Victoria service provided by [vessels] such as the Capilano Queen with a smaller crew. Business is crippled as a result of this lack of service. ... These enormous new gin-palace ferries built to provide a spectacular travel experience for summer tourists are not economical through the winter mid-week and overnight. We need timely bread-and-butter affordable basic transportation service.” — Chris R

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“The ferries do not need newer, fancier chairs or facilities. The ships are for everyone to use and should be affordable. The recent addition of first-class lounges on some routes is particularly offensive. Today it costs over $100 for a trip with a car and a few passengers. I don't like to see people targeting labour for reducing these costs; target costly upgrades and freeze executive salaries. Surely those in charge of BC Ferries view it as a profit-making business, particularly with tourists in mind. ... I wish they would realize that managing a crown ferry corporation is real boring work; its not about spending money on aesthetic renewal of the boats all the time like a child throwing away the toy he is bored with. I would be much more proud of BC Ferries if it simply maintained the fleet it has and stopped hiking up prices.” — Lukas Hyrman

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“Move HQ to the ferry terminals. There is no need for an expensive lease downtown when there is so much space at the terminals. The executives can have board meetings in the ferry state rooms that otherwise don't see much use. Also cut executive pay to par with Washington state as stated by previous poster. I cannot comprehend why they make so much more than a Supreme Court judge. Sell overpriced beer to go with the overpriced burgers.” — Jimmy Rustles

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“Cancel BC Ferries and build two bridges: one from West Van to Nanaimo, through Bowen, up to Gibsons and then across; the other from Tsawwassen, through the Gulf Islands to Schwartz Bay. Big up-front infrastructure cost, but the only long term, manageable solution.” — Tim Caldecott

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“The solution is to return to the notion of ferries as highways. People in Fort St. John would support with their tax dollars, just as people from Victoria support new roads and bridges with theirs. Increasing fares is untenable, as it is creating cost-of-living barriers working people can no longer afford.” — Paul Welsh

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“Have a reduced rate for B.C. residents. Have better affordable public transit to and from the ferry with better city connections to and from the ferry. This would encourage foot passengers. More ferries. A ferry from downtown Victoria to downtown Vancouver. Lower prices for unwaged and low income.” — Marion Bennett

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“Leadership needs to minimize costs but keep basic services safe and secure. Unprofitable routes must be maintained but losses can be mitigated. Options for outsourcing some ferry services should be considered. Financial statements should be public and a balanced budget should be required, but excluding the cost of servicing debt (which is essentially equivalent to public sector debt anyways). Alternate fuel systems must be considered, particularly natural gas. Ticket prices should be lower if one books in advance and significantly higher if you show up at the gate with no ticket. With ticket sales BC Ferries can then modify service levels, targeting high load levels. Frequent passengers can earn further discounts or benefits (think travel rewards program). Promote a BC Ferries credit card – they are cash cows. Extra services should continue to cost more, such as use of lounges etc. And, finally, bring back the Seaburger.” — David Chamberlain

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“1) Fire the board and the executive. Follow Washington State pay guidelines, which average one-tenth the amount we pay. 2) Bring it back as Crown corporation. 3) Stop advertising. Stop the fancy tourism frills. It’s a highway, not a destination.” — Kim Poirier

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“They should examine their labour costs in a big way, including both union and non-union personnel. Their management structure is overstaffed and wildly over paid. Starting with the CEO. Compare labour cost to other comparable non-union and competitive industries. The service provided is excellent but they have reached the tipping point on the Swartz Bay Ferry. This is hurting industry and tourism. When the cost to take a car, two passengers and a reservation each way is at $200 for the weekend, people will look for alternatives. Low traffic routes should be minimized and in some cases like the Mill Bay Ferry, discontinued.” — David Allan

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“Move the whole service back to basic infrastructure and build bridges on the smaller routes that support cost savings over a period of time.” — Guy Soulliere

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“Open contract bidding to all interested, even U.S. bids! All sources of profit including wider alcohol with purchase limits and/or casino-type choices such as slot machines or Keno. And of course, user fees more directed to those that live there. ... Natural gas fuel injection for the ferries.” — Mario Veit

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“It’s easy. BC Ferries is meant to be affordable for VI residents, therefore there should be an affordable price just for residents. Normal price should be for other passengers. This is done in several countries, nothing new. ” — Jaime Prieto

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“Let islanders travel at a much reduced rate, even 1/2. Bring back the ’midnight ferry run.’ Get rid of the food service on board. Put in some food vending machines. Raise rates for tourists. Make it part of the highways system and subsidize it from gas revenues.” — Rodger Sparks

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“1) Better integration with transit, including buses on ferries, which allows for a fast transition. 2) Discounting system for off-peak runs, to spread the load and increase ridership. 3) Better services at ferry terminals, possibly PPP [public-private partnerships] to take better advantage of huge captive markets. For example, grocery stores for commuter routes, cafes, etc.” — Melissa Harrison

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“I would change how the ferry service moves people. I would introduce ’people ferries’ that move people to Vancouver – reducing time and cost. Along with this would be the connection of rapid transit at Victoria, Nanaimo, Horseshoe Bay and Tsawwassen. This ferry service would have people in Vancouver in a much shorter time and perhaps at reduced cost. A rapid-rail service on Vancouver Island joining the two major ports would [address the] need for a rail service and improve tourism. The rapid transit would integrate with existing systems on Vancouver Island, making it easier for people to fly international flights. For auto traffic, the schedules could be reduced. They should have ferries at night (between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.) designated just for commercial truck traffic at reduced rates. In the summer this could also include RV traffic. I would drop some of the unnecessary routes such as the Mill Bay ferry system.” — Bill Zylstra

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“I would have all ferry riders reserve and book their sailings ahead of time, just as we do now for airplane flights. Also, I would cut down the number of daily sailings on lesser-travelled routes, where ferries are often not filled even close to capacity. It does not make sense that just because a person CHOOSES to live in a more desolate area or an island, s/he should have unlimited transportation to and from these regions. If money grew on trees, it would be argued that all B.C. citizens could have unlimited transportation. However, in this day, with the government forced to save money, islanders and those living in the more desolate coastal regions must understand that there are consequences to choosing to live in these regions, just as there are advantages.” — Jane Wrinch

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“We need to rein in the salaries of executives and understand first and foremost – it’s not a tourist destination, it’s safe, efficient, water-based transportation and should be nothing more. Executives need to be paid at civil-servant wages (possibly needs to be brought back into Crown corporation status). Areas of functionality like Powell River to Comox – it makes no sense that the ferry be based in Comox as the mass of traffic comes from Powell River in the morning. As a result the ferry’s first run to Powell River is practically empty every time – waste of money. Other ideas to improve bottom line: Cut all promotions and marketing either than updates on service schedules and pricing. Place advertising on sides of ship as a way to leverage the boats as billboard space. Enable gambling on board the boats as a way of increasing revenue on a captive audience” — Hugh Burnham

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Click here to see all the responses

We won’t be monitoring the responses closely from now on, but if you’d like us to help tell your BC Ferries story you can fill out the form below (link for mobile users here) or e-mail community@globeandmail.com to reach an editor directly.

 

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