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General News · 31st October 2015
Uschi Koebberling
The FAC met 21 October 2015 at the Heriot Bay Inn, and included committee members from Quadra and Cortes and the following representatives from BC Ferries: Mark Collins, VP Strategic Planning and Community Engagement, David Hendry – Strategic Planning Director; Captain Al deKoninck – Marine Superintendent, Jeff West, Superintendent of Terminal Operations for the North Islands, and Darin Guenette – Public Affairs Manager.
Highlights of this overall positive meeting include:

• Sailing cancellations on Quadra-Campbell River run due to BC Hydro cable work. Communications issues between BC Hydro and contractor resulted in cancellations outside the control of BC Ferries.

• Scheduling of Powell River Queen for refitting and Q Cove maintenance is driven by availability of the Bowen Island Queen and its limited overheight capacity. Bowen Island Queen serves all comparable routes and unfortunately resulted in overheight overloads in September.

• Length of notification time for service notices: On occasion Cortes residents had started their journey to Campbell River or back home without knowledge that the 2nd boat was not operating and they were stuck on Quadra Island. Sometimes the change of weather or a presumed small problem turns out to be more involving result in extended delays. As soon as the severity of the problem is known, it is communicated through service notices that get collected at the service centre. When there are multiple notices at the service centre the distribution of the notices to travellers might be delayed and BC Ferries is not able to streamline that process at the moment. Everyone with Internet access can subscribe to receive these notifications through the BCFC website. (Following the meeting, Captain Al de Koninck confirmed that he sent a note to both routes to ensure that both are notified if there is a cancellation on another route.)

• Cost/Revenue impacts of service cuts on 16 of 25 minor routes and introduction of 50% fare for BC Seniors: Gabriola FAC Chair John Hodgkins produced an impact report for the affected routes and concluded, that in particular service cuts to Gabriola and Quadra resulted in cost savings that exceeded the target savings. Overall, BC Ferries achieved government mandated cost savings and the provincial government does not consider a reversal of its mandated cuts. BC Ferries emphasized that cost savings are looked at system wide and not on the basis of individual routes. The price cap reflects inflation rate = mission accomplished. Case closed.

• Update on Tachek noise and Cortes projects: The boat will go into refit next year and mufflers will then be put in to further reduce noise. The replacement vessel for the June to August 2016 Tachek refit will have the same car and increased foot passenger capacity. The Hydro upgrade is on time and the currently used generator is much quieter. The waiting room upgrade will proceed as scheduled. During summer the Whaletown washrooms will be more frequently sanitized and cleaned to avoid excessive odors.

• Ferry reservation system for Quadra/Cortes: BC Ferries is undergoing a long term upgrade of its information system. The current reservation system is inadequate to expand from current routes. 2017/18 is the target for booking, ticketing and reservations on the major routes. Minor routes to follow later, i.e. 4-5 years from now. Nothing will be done until the new system is in place. The new system, when eventually operational, will also deal with the Experience card program, and demand management through fare flexibility, much like airlines.

• Shade of C.R. Terminal: BC Ferries had suggested a pergola style structure on the north-east side. An FAC member cautioned that this may result in passengers crossing loading/unloading car traffic. BC Ferries will investigate the suggestion of creating a permanent awning along the foot passengers path, wide enough to also accommodate benches. Roll-downs at the weather exposed side should also be looked at.

• Quadra FAC consider ferry staffing for after hour emergency runs insufficient. If staff are not willing or able because they live on Vancouver Island to staff special sailings, BC Ferries cannot force it. BCF provides service on a “best effort basis” but not as an “essential service”. To require staff to work off hours would require paying on-call availability and BCF would not cover these additional costs.

• Assured loading of Cortes Connection. Certain services, such as ambulance, police, and mail have assured loading. FAC members support assured loading for the Cortes Connection for its scheduled runs, as it provides a public and essential service. However, the FAC does not support assured loading for additional runs, such as charters, as they are a private business. BC Ferries initiated a policy review of its assured loading policies to ensure system wide consistency. This review will take 6-9 months.

• Operations summary: overall vehicle and passenger ridership is up to roughly recover one year’s loss, but not where it was 4-5 years ago.

• BC Ferries would want to know of special events affecting ferry loads so they can plan for it. Community members: please let one of the FAC members know.

• BC Ferries has a vehicle fare promotion from 16 November to 19 December 2016 for certain routes and sailings with a 50% price reduction to attract traffic to less used sailings. Details on their website.

• Customer Satisfaction Survey: FAC members suggested distinguishing between tourists and commuters to get balanced input.

• Cortes FAC members thanked BC Ferries for transferring hand painted pictures to the Tachek.