Viewpoint: Ferry situation untenable

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By KEVIN BELL

Many of you folks will remember with fondness some of the 20-plus years that Barb Isles and Mary Paul ran Mouat’s Clothing. I had the good fortune to be their “boss” for a good portion of those years and like a good boss I did precisely what they suggested I should do.

Barb and Mary were very clever when it came to fashion retailing but, like most people, they could make the odd mistake. Here’s the prize: they would try something, analyze the result and, if it was not sound, they would correct it. Even if it meant abandoning the idea. This is a very simple strategy, but it’s remarkable how seldom it’s employed.

A case in point relates to BC Ferries, and a quick recap will be helpful. The Howe Sound Queen, a 60+ car ferry operating on the Vesuvius-Crofton route, reached its expiry date this spring and was retired by BC Ferries. This seems to have caught BCF by surprise because they replaced the Howe Sound Queen with the Quinitsa, a 45+ car ferry. Now, the Howe Sound Queen was experiencing overloads for some years prior to its retirement, but somehow BCF felt that a significantly smaller ship was the appropriate replacement vessel. To its credit, BCF added two sailings per day to the route and now point, with some satisfaction, to the somewhat more comparable capacity of the two ferries given the added sailings (see the explanatory ad in last week’s Driftwood). This is precisely the reason that I can tell that BCF has learned absolutely nothing from its earlier mistake.

Currently, taking a ferry to or from Salt Spring has become a very real problem. There are often ferry lineups in Vesuvius extending from the terminal to well beyond Sunset Drive (likely a three-sailing wait). The other day we brought our vehicle to Vesuvius at 8:20 in anticipation of catching the 9:35 ferry. The parking lot was already full and cars had begun queuing up Vesuvius Bay Road. This was over an hour in advance of the next sailing and we were already well into a two-sailing wait.

A note to BCF: If passengers are expected to sit in ferry lineups for one, two or perhaps three hours, then ferry capacity will never be an issue because BCF will be leaving with full ships every sailing. The real issue is not capacity, it’s the adverse impact on the residents of and visitors to Salt Spring who can no longer rely on a reasonably efficient and effective ferry service. Constant overloads and serious wait times are taking away a good deal of the pleasure of living on Salt Spring.

Because the needs and quality of life of the ferry users are not important components of the BCF planning process is how I know that they don’t really understand what they are meant to be doing.

I know two retired clothing store managers who would have this problem solved in short order.

3 Comments
  1. Frazzo says

    Boo Hoo. Part of life on the Gulf Islands as population and tourism continues to grow. I’m sure there are times when a 100 car ferry wouldn’t be enough. The incessant whining of ferry travel never seems to go a way and nor does the high cost of running them.

  2. Reginald Jefferd says

    I feel the pain too, but I wonder just how much service BC Ferries is supposed to provide. If there is demand for 1000 cars each way per day, and they provide 1000 rides each way, is that enough? If so then they are arguably meeting the need. Most of us like to sleep in, before going to Duncan, and be back on island for supper, so we are facing lineups, but apparently early morning and late evening ferries are going not full. Is it fair for us to demand that they meet peak mid day requirements, because if it is, and they need to, there will be a lot of empty slots early morning and evenings. And someone has to pay that bill, and you know who that will be.
    If the 1000 rides delivered to meet the 1000 rides demanded is not enough, then how much would be reasonable? Where does it stop? 1200, 1500, 2000?
    I do appreciate the extra summer ferry on the Long Harbour route to Vancouver. Maybe they could find a similar summer addition for Vesuvius.

  3. Paul Large says

    Nicely done Kevin. I don’t think this is a situation where we are needlessly complaining. This is a very serious situation that must be addressed.
    Salt Spring has/is experiencing very good tourist seasons and to insure this continues the size of the ferry must be addressed ASAP, otherwise people will go elsewhere on their vacation next time. It’s just that simple. And I know there are those of you who say “who cares?” Well, you should care because each and everyone of us depends on that bump in volume to give all those small businesses a fighting chance.
    If you look at any community of around 10,000 people that doesn’t have a tourist bump you will find that the services it offers are substantially less then we have here on our little island.
    As a person who travels quite a lot for medical reasons I hope they get it together soon.

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