The new BC Ferry Services Inc. is starting to review service to the islands and the north, and will present its findings to the provincial government in just less than a year.
Today (Thursday April 17), the new private-enterprise ferry operator launches its northern services strategy review, with a half dozen ferry personnel involved, aimed at coming up with recommendations by next April, a year after the company was formed. Ferries expects to have an idea how the review will proceed and when public consultations with islanders will be held around the middle of May.
“BC Ferry Services Inc. is putting a lot of horsepower into this to make sure we are getting it right,” said Captain Trafford Taylor, vice-president inter island and northern services, at a stakeholder meeting Monday in Skidegate (see separate story).
The review is driven by the fact that the two major northern vessels, the Queen of Prince Rupert and the Queen of the North are ending their service life and cannot be used after 2010, according to Captain Taylor. Possibilities for their replacement include a ‘status quo’ approach, buying new, similar ships, or changing service more dramatically using a ‘hub and spoke’ model with one main vessel and other smaller ships.
With the new ferry corporation following a strong business model and interested in innovative approaches such as contracting out routes, one thing is certain-ferry service to the islands is going to change more in the next few years than in the recent past.
An important part of the review just starting will be hearing what the communities want. Capt Taylor said BC Ferries will want to talk to all stakeholders, and the public process probably has to be finished within nine months to allow for the recommendations to be made. And there is no danger of the islands being dropped. “You are always going to have service”, he added.
“It is going to be a tricky consultation. We are going to put options before the government, and tell the government which option people want. ..At the end of the day, it will be the government that decides,” said Gary Leitch, of BCFS corporate communications branch. He also suggested that there may come a time when islanders will want to lobby the government about which service option is preferable to them.
BC Ferries is losing $10.7-million on the islands each year, $8.1-million on the Skidegate-Rupert route ($42,669 per round trip) , and $2.6-million on the Kwuna, $604.90 per round trip.
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