BC Ferries’ Vesuvius-Crofton route will see a return to 2014 service levels as part of an agreement between the contractor and the province announced on Friday.
The provincial government stated Friday it would increase service on 10 minor and northern ferry routes that were cut as a cost-savings measure under the previous government, in response to a request from the Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs. “For years people living in coastal communities saw ferry fares increase and services cut,” said Claire Trevena, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure. “Quality, affordable ferry services are a necessity and not a luxury for people in coastal communities. That’s why we’ve turned the ship around — first by rolling back ferry fares on small coastal routes and now by reversing cuts to services that were making it difficult for people to get around.”
Service on the Vesuvius route was originally reduced by changing from a year-round schedule to a peak and off-peak model. One roundtrip sailing was removed from the peak schedule and the off-peak schedule offered two fewer trips than before. A partial service restoration took place as the route demonstrated continued demand. That demand has only increased over the past two years, with overloads and late departures now frequent.
Salt Spring’s Ferry Advisory Committee chair Harold Swierenga said another change to the Vesuvius-Crofton schedule planned to start in April means the route’s service level was already going to be back to 2014 levels. Extra sailing are being added to compensate for the smaller ferry coming onto the route in place of the Howe Sound Queen.
“The announcement really indicates a lot of what they’ve already been doing,” Swierenga said. “The new schedule pretty well restores what was lost and then some with the Quinitsa coming on.”
The other routes with service restoration are Earls Cove-Saltery Bay, Horseshoe Bay-Bowen Island, Port Hardy-Mid Coast-Prince Rupert, Haida Gwai-Prince Rupert, Powell River-Texada Island, Nanaimo Harbour-Gabriola Island, Campbell River-Quadra Island, Quadra Island-Cortes Island, and Skidegate-Alliford Bay. Most inter-island routes will see their schedules change as early as April.
The service is being funded through an increased provincial service fee to BC Ferries for the final year of Performance Term 4 and all four years of Performance Term 5, which starts in April 2020.
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announcement also came with the release of a full-scale operational review of BC Ferries that was conducted by special advisor Blair Redlin.
Redlin’s report, which he submitted on June 30, 2018, provides 60 recommendations covering all aspects of the service, from BC Ferries’ corporate governance to the language of the Coastal Ferries Act. The province said it will be amending the Coastal Ferry Act to implement some of Redlin’s recommendations, although the details have yet to be shared.
BC Ferries CEO Mark Collins said Friday the company was pleased to increase service on many of its inter-island and northern routes, and by the company’s overall good mark in Redlin’s report.
“We are currently in the process of reviewing the document thoroughly. We look forward to meeting with the province to better understand which recommendations they are interested in exploring further,” Collins stated.
The province made its initial move to support coastal ferry service in last year’s budget, which reduced fares on the smaller and northern routes by 15 per cent, put a freeze major route fares and reinstates a seniors’ discount. Fares will continue to be frozen this year.
Long-term planning goals may also serve to ease transportation in the southern Vancouver Island region with increased ferry service, if Redlin’s recommendations are followed. He has suggested that multi-agency transportation planning should occur with potential new ferry services or terminals identified that would “support other transportation modes and/or reduce pressure on roads.” Examples that he provides include a service between the Saanich Peninsula and Cowichan Valley, improvements to the Mill Bay Ferry, and a passenger-only service from Colwood to Esquimalt.