Ferry plans not popular with truckers

  • Mar. 14, 2008 7:00 p.m.

Transportation companies are chilled by BC Ferries plans to change the way refrigerated units are brought to the islands. The Northern Expedition will come into service in 2009, promising a “state of the art” experience for travelers, but the company also has plans to upgrade reefer facilities on board, forcing local companies to look into buying new drop trailers. According to a service notice posted on the website, BC Ferries is reducing capacity for diesel or gas exhaust hook ups aboard the new vessel, in favour of electric plug-ins. BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall says reducing diesel exhaust systems on board long-running voyages follows new international environmental and safety standards in the shipping industry. Presently, the Northern Adventure has room for 18 diesel units and the Queen of Prince Rupert has room for 20, but the Northern Expedition will provide space for only four diesel units and 22 electrical units. When the Observer talked with several trucking companies who send groceries and other supplies to the islands in refrigerated units each week, they said never heard of electric reefers. “I imagine they are out there, but they’re probably pretty expensive,” said Lee Starr, service centre manager for Canadian Freightways in Prince Rupert. He also wonders what this will mean for the trailers that sit on the islands for a few days. “Will they need batteries?” he said. He was surprised about the change and said a letter from BC Ferries, dated February 11, 2008 was the first time his company had ever heard of this new configuration. Laurel Donaldson at Bandstra was also surprised by the news. “We are looking into it to see what effects it would have on us providing reefer service to the Charlottes,” she said. According to Joanne Ames at Clearbrook Trucking, the local agent for Bandstra, Clarks and Canadian Freightways, an average of eight diesel reefer units arrive on island every Monday morning. With only four diesel positions available on board the new ferry, she wonders what will happen to all the other goods. “What if those companies do not want to go to the expense of converting to electric reefers?” she asks. She said companies that send three reefers at a time would have to convert at least six trucks in their fleet to electric, as the ferry schedule leaves a lag time of four days when trailers are stuck on island. If companies do not change to electric system the entire freight schedule would have to change on the mainland and on the islands. According to Ms Ames, the standard in Canada is gas or diesel units and she warns that the cost of any changes will be downloaded onto the consumer. She also said that the fishing industry will be impacted by the change. Ms Marshall said that’s why BC Ferries has given the companies a year’s notice. BC Ferries says the new electrical facilities cause less air and noise pollution aboard the vessel and are safer because they pose less of a fire risk or risk of injury to employees. She says the change may not be as onerous as it appears. “My understanding is you can change the air conditioning unit and make it dual, so it accepts gas and electric.” She had no knowledge of the cost. The change only affects the new northern vessel. Ms Marshall says the company does not offer drop trailer service on southern routes, so those new vessels are not affected. Mr. Starr said in light of this news, his company is now looking at the feasibility of changing to electric, but doesn’t rule out the possibility that Canadian Freightways could drop the service to the islands if the revenue doesn’t cover the cost.

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