By Alex Rinfret-BC Ferries has agreed to make 23 passenger cabins available on the Queen of Prince Rupert when it returns to service next week, instead of virtually none.
Queen Charlotte mayor Carol Kulesha said the decision was the result of complaints from islands community leaders, who have been holding weekly teleconference calls with BC Ferries officials.
“They have worked with the union and they will have 23 cabins,” she said Monday (April 10) following the latest teleconference. “They heard our concerns, loud and clear.”
Crew members will take over the remaining 25 cabins, she said. They don’t want to go back to their former quarters under the car deck following the Queen of the North’s sinking last month.
However, Ms Kulesha said it’s not yet clear whether BC Ferries will allow passengers to reserve cabins, or hand them out to those who need them most. For now, people who made reservations for cabins before the QN sank will get the cabins first.
Once the QPR returns to service this weekend, the barge service will stop and BC Ferries will offer the normal schedule for this time of year of three sailings per week, Ms Kulesha said.
The Queen of the North had been scheduled to start daily sailings between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert on May 18, she said. How the schedule will be handled after that date is still unclear.
“Right now they are still looking for a vessel, they have a line on one and will hear by next Tuesday,” she said. “They are willing to look at anything – passenger vessels, small cruise ships, freighters.”
Some interests are lobbying for BC Ferries to put the QPR on the Hardy-Rupert run all summer, leaving the Charlottes with no ferry service at all, Ms Kulesha said. The run is vital to the province’s tourist industry, and many people have made hotels, bus and train reservations which depend on daily ferry service on that route.
“It’s an enormous problem,” Ms Kulesha said.
The groups advocating this solution are suggesting that BC Ferries offer barge and plane service to the Charlottes to make up for the loss of a ferry connection, although this would make it impossible for tourists to bring their vehicles here.
Another area of concern is the QPR herself, which is older, shabbier, smaller and slower than the QN.
The QPR can comfortably seat about 240 passengers, Ms Kulesha said BC Ferries staff told them, while an average of 350 passengers travel on the summertime Hardy-Rupert sailings.
Problems are many, solutions few, she said.
“At this point, they’re not discussing saving money,” she said about BC Ferries. “Their primary consideration is to deliver the service.”
Eventually, Ms Kulesha said, the northern communities are going to have to call on the federal and provincial governments for an aid package, because the effects flowing from the loss of the Queen of the North are so big and will be so long-lasting.
Besides the restricted number of cabins, there will be at least one other major change when the QPR returns, Ms Kulesha said. BC Ferries will now be registering all passengers the same way airlines do, and this could make boarding that much more time-consuming.
“It will make a long day that much longer,” she said.
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