The new summer ferry schedule is set to start Friday (May 19), even though BC Ferries had not received permission as of Monday to reduce service levels.
The one-ship schedule has the Queen of Prince Rupert making round trips between the Prince Rupert and the Islands on Thursdays and Fridays one week, and Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays the next week, from now until the end of September.
During the peak tourist months of July and August, when the ferry would normally offer six round-trip sailings a week (a total of 52 trips in those two months), service will be cut in half, with a total of only 26 trips offered.
The reduced ferry service will be supplemented with three-times-a-week barge service for commercial vehicles, which should free up some space on the QPR. BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said the company will also provide floatplane service throughout the summer for medical passengers who can’t get a ferry reservation or whose doctor recommends they travel by air.
BC Ferries implemented the reduction after failing to find a ship to replace the Queen of the North, which sank in March on the Inside Passage route.
But according to the Coastal Ferry Act, BC Ferries must not reduce service on a route unless it first obtains permission from the BC Ferry Commission. The Commission did authorize a service reduction on the Skidegate-Rupert and Rupert-Port Hardy routes following the sinking, but only until May 18.
Ms Marshall said BC Ferries has applied to the Ferry Commission to offer a reduced number of sailings between May 18 and September 30, but had not received a reply as of late Monday.
Meanwhile, at the visitor information centre in Queen Charlotte, manager Carolyn Hesseltine said she’s receiving many calls from potential visitors, and most are willing to fly here rather than take the ferry. Ms Hesseltine said she advises those planning to travel by ferry to make their reservations as soon as possible, and to call her back if they have any problems doing so. So far, none have called back.
“I haven’t had any disgruntled people,” she said. “I think we’ll have a good tourist season, I’m looking forward to it.”
One aspect of the new schedule which may be good for both tourists and the businesses that cater to them is the way the QPR will arrive in the middle of the day rather than the evening, Ms Hesseltine pointed out. Now tourists will have plenty of time to orient themselves and businesses won’t have to worry about staying open extra-late for customers just getting off the ferry.
The visitor info centre had previously been planning a split shift, opening for several hours in the morning, then closing for the afternoon and opening again in the evening. But with the new ferry schedule, Ms Hesseltine has changed all that. The info centre will be open from 9 am until 6 pm, seven days a week from now until Thanksgiving. (It will stay open later on some nights when special events take place.)
In other ferry news:
o The BC Ferries investigation into the sinking of the Queen of the North continues, Ms Marshall said. No crew members have been dismissed as a result of the sinking, she said. And although only one ferry will be operating this summer instead of two, no crew members are being laid off. Normally, the extra crew is supplied by casual workers or employees from the southern routes who take a temporary work assignment on the north coast, she said.
o BC Ferries has not yet responded to the two lawsuits which have been filed over the sinking, Ms Marshall said. In fact, as of Monday, the company had not even received notice of them, she said.
o In Victoria, MLA Gary Coons continued raising the BC Ferries issue in the Legislature, asking Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon to explain why the Liberals are pretending that BC Ferries is completely separate from government, and why the government has no vision for the future of the ferry service. In response, Mr. Falcon called him a “complainer”.
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