Sunshine Coast board urges BC Ferries to reverse course on evening sailings

BC Ferries is resuming service on the Horseshoe Bay-Nanaimo route June 3, but a schedule change on the Langdale run to accommodate the Nanaimo service isn’t sitting well with some Sunshine Coast residents or the directors at the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD).

The new schedule puts the last sailing of the day out of Langdale at 6:30 p.m. instead of 7:40 p.m. and the final return tip from the Lower Mainland is changing from 8:45 p.m. to 7:25 p.m.

The ferry company said the changes to the Langdale schedule, as well as changes on the Bowen Island route, are necessary to avoid congestion at Horseshoe Bay.

“I’ve been getting calls from business owners about lack of evening travel, not only for locals but those coming over here and our commuters,” Sechelt mayor and SCRD director Darnelda Siegers told the May 28 board meeting.

Sechelt’s other director, Alton Toth, said, “This is nothing short of horrendous and I’ve got no problem going on record saying that. As a business owner this schedule means I won’t be able to go to Vancouver to get supplies for my business. That’s going to increase my costs and that’s going to have an impact on my business."

David Croal, the director for Gibsons, pointed out that a lot of commuters have been using the last evening sailing to return to the Coast.

“They will be totally boned by this manoeuvre on BC Ferries’ part,” he said. “It’s been a huge wrench thrown into the machine, and a lot of people are very upset."

SCRD chair Lori Pratt, who also sits on the Ferry Advisory Committee, said the FAC was “horrified” when they got notification of the schedule change.

The board voted to send a message to BC Ferries urging them to reconsider the schedule change and “reinstate a later sailing on the Langdale route.”

Siegers and Pratt are also hoping to meet with Collins to discuss the July and August schedule.

Deborah Marshall, BC Ferries’ executive director of public affairs, told Coast Reporter, “We have had some feedback from customers regarding the new schedule and appreciate the concern being raised about the timing of the last ferry sailing being earlier than usual.”

Marshall said the company has had to make hard decisions to cut costs “in order to protect the long-term sustainability of the ferry system.”

The system-wide cuts to BC Ferries’ service were made possible by a temporary agreement with the province that came into effect April 4 and allows for a minimum of six round trips per day on the Horseshoe Bay-Langdale route and 12 “daily minimum hours of operation.”

The adjusted Langdale schedule is in line with those minimums, but Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons said he thinks it’s time to start adding sailings again or at least keep the final sailings later in the evening and he’s raised the issue with Transportation Minister Claire Trevena.

Simons said with the ships still restricted to 50 per cent of their usual passenger capacity by Transport Canada, the limited capacity and number of sailings “is forcing Sunshine Coast residents to make reservations and pay more.”

He said this is a time when the focus should also be on “helping businesses thrive.”

“I think we do need more sailings, otherwise people are going to miss medical appointments, people are going to be unable to transport their goods or their services,” Simons said. “I've already received emails from companies that are going to be significantly impacted.”

The temporary service level adjustment agreement between BC Ferries and the province is set to expire June 4, with “month to month” extensions allowed “by mutual consent.”

The Transport Canada directive on passenger capacity is in force until June 30, but could also be extended.

Marshall said BC Ferries “continues to work with the province on service level adjustments in the interest of ferry users as we move into a new normal.”

In a statement to Coast Reporter, officials from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said BC Ferries and the province “are in the process of getting ferry service to levels that the public needs.”

The ministry also said a renewed temporary service level agreement is being negotiated.

“While the temporary service level agreement is due to expire June 4, the province and BC Ferries are currently working to increase service levels to meet current demand. A renewed temporary service level agreement will reflect this in the coming days and weeks,” the statement said.

– With files from Sophie Woodrooffe