During the last two months, while I was away, there have been many developments and changes that have affected ferry users -and there are more to come.
On Jan. 1, Transport Canada, BC Ferries' safety regulator, issued new safe-crewing requirements for the minor route ferries.
BCF's President/CEO David Hahn told the FAC Chairs it would cost $3.2 million a year to add 52 full-time crew on 18 smaller ferries to maintain the 2008 capacities, but the Ferry Commissioner states on his web site that “this does not mean that fares will rise accordingly, unless the company can satisfy the Commission that the circumstances are extraordinary under section 42 of the Coastal Ferry Act.”
He says, “BC Ferries has stated that as an interim measure, it has elected to reduce the maximum number of passengers it carries on some vessels, to keep prior crewing levels.
“This raises the possibility that overloads may become more frequent on minor routes, especially in the summer.”
The number of passengers who can be on board Quadra's ferry with its usual crew of seven was reduced from 392 to 193. The Cortes ferry with six crew was only cut from 150 to 144, a number that has never been exceeded.
Transport Canada will allow the Quadra ferry to carry up to 392 people with just one more person on the crew. What BC Ferries has done so far is to add one deck hand from 7:50 a.m. to 4:50 p.m. Monday through Friday when students and commuting workers might take the total number of passengers over the 192 limit.
Since Jan. 1, BCF says there has only been one passenger overload- -in Campbell River on Friday, Feb. 13 when 142 people bound for Camp Homewood arrived for the 5:25 p.m. ferry.
Marine Superintendent Gordon Nettleton says he will be monitoring the situation but can't guarantee that people won't be left behind when the lower limit is in effect. If you are planning an event or program that will bring a large number of people to the ferry in a short period of time, it would be helpful if you contact customer.relationsbcferries.com or phone them at 1-877-222-1949.Q. Cove Traffic
While I was away, terminal management came up with some new ideas for managing the traffic at Quathiaski Cove and met with Jim Abram and their regular lot attendants on site. I'll leave it to Jim to report on the outcome. Ever since the second holding lane was constructed on the hill, it's been a problem when there is overload traffic. Hopefully, this year there will be sufficient signage and a system that users can understand and one lot attendant can manage.
In November, Premier Gordon Campbell handed BCF $20 million to buy ferry fares down by one-third for December and January, but ridership still dropped 14% on the minor routes and 10% on the big ferries in December compared to December 2007.
In January, BC Ferries cut management staff to save money, laying off 35 people, including several who had been liaisons to the Ferry Advisory Committees, and David Hahn warned in a news release that some onshore union jobs might get cut too. So solving our ferry passenger capacity and terminal traffic problems by simply adding more staff is not likely.No Alternatives
Hahn also announced that BCF's effort to find an “alternate service provider” for our routes had not produced any results. The Liberals' legislation which set up BCFS Inc. required the company to try to contract out any routes which private companies might be able to operate more economically. This process requires a lot of management time and has not produced a single viable alternative in six years. BC Ferries will continue to operate our ferries for the foreseeable future.Another 7.25% April 1
After a 20% fuel surcharge peaked our fares last August, the cost of fuel went south with the rest of the economy. The surcharges were replaced by a 5% fuel rebate in February, shortly after Campbell's two-month “stimulus” package ran out.
Now the minor routes are going to get hit with a 7.25% increase on April 1, based on price caps set by the BC Ferry Commissioner in December 2007 and reaffirmed last month. Fares on the big ferries will go up 3.74%. Card Pooling
Our method of paying has also undergone some changes. In February, Executive V-P & CFO Rob Clarke announced the introduction of Experience Card “pooling.”
“Families, couples and businesses will no longer need to spend time transferring money nor have to worry about showing up with insufficient funds,” Clarke wrote. “They can simply share a balance between their primary and secondary cards and set the auto-reload feature to top up their balance.”
To find out more about how to do this, you can go to www.bcferries.com/experience_card/
or call the customer service center at 1-877-222-1949.
There is still no way to read Experience Cards at the Cortes ferry's Heriot Bay terminal. Until they come up with a workable device, BCF will continue to sell paper ticket books for the Cortes ferry, but on June 1, they will stop accepting them on all other routes. They will credit the value of your remaining paper tickets to an Experience Card until April 1, 2010.
The card system is not without its glitches. Early in February, BCF auditors discovered that the system had failed to charge 1,097 auto-reloads worth $86,721 to customer's credit cards between June 23 and July 8 last year. They sent email or letter notices to those affected and put the transactions through in February. And Now Farewell
During the last two months, away from island reality, I was able to reflect on how I spend my time and energy at home. I have decided not to continue serving on the Campbell River-Quadra-Cortes Ferry Advisory Committee.
I have been on the FAC for 11 years and served as chair for the last three, a term that officially ended in December. I enjoyed being involved, locally and provincially, and I learned a lot. I have great admiration for all of the FAC members who volunteer their time to try to improve ferry service for our communities.
I especially want to thank those who chose me to be their chair for their support and participation: Cortesians Ted Harrison, Jenny Hiebert, Bertha Jeffery, Myrna Kerr and Alois Stranan; Quadra Island's Jim Abram, Bob Brown, Connie Burns, Terry Hooper and Gerry Hornby, and Campbell River's Mary Storry.
I also came to appreciate and respect the many people who work for BC Ferries who are also trying to provide the best possible service with a lot of constraints. The support of David Hahn and Rob Clarke allowed the FAC Chairs to work as a group and gave us a voice we never had before with BCF, the Ferry Commissioner, the government and the media.
Finally, I want to thank all of you who have taken the time to express your appreciation for my efforts and for these reports. I trust that there are among you some who can and will contribute to this ongoing process.
Appointments are still in the works for the next three-year term. Contact: Sarah Cotton, Manager of Sales and Community Relations, in her Victoria office at (250) 978-1398, by cell (250) 516-2263, or by email at sarah.cottonbcferries.com.Happy sails to all of you
John Sprungman, Chair, Ferry Advisory Committee