The following is a list of issues raised by the last year's BC Ferry Corporation decision (subsequently postponed) to move the Queen of Capilano to a Southern Gulf Island Route, and replace her on the Bowen Island Route with the Queen of Howe Sound. Further issues will be addresses as they arise following continued dealings with BC Ferries. The issues are presented in the form of questions that need to be asked.

Please consider contacting suitable persons (members of the government, persons involved in BC Ferry Corporation Senior Management, and the media, for example) to express your concerns. The fact that the Chairperson of the BC Ferry Corporation board assured us nothing would happen till the fall does not mean adverse changes are no longer planned. The fall is here, and the consultative model has once again been jettisoned. New issues are arising (such as the planned ferry dock closure). Stand on guard; be vigilant.

Some background material has been interspersed with the issues (Magenta text). The issues are not necessarily in order of importance.


According to information received, the December 1998 decision to reduce Bowen Island ferry capacity was allegedly based on pressure: (a) to cut costs (it was suggested that the move would save roughly $659,000 per year according to BCFC figures); (b) to implement "Traffic Demand Management" (TDM) in order to reduce pollution on the mainland; and (c) to enhance tourism and business in the Southern Gulf Islands.

More recently, a plan to provide a larger ferry has been announced, but the ferry dock is scheduled for an 8-week closure, and the consultative model for changes apparently rejected, despite evidence that the user community is able to negotiate changes desirable for all concerned (such as accommodation layout suited to teen behaviour management).

Allegedly, BCFC attempts at cost cutting in a Northern area, by running a foot ferry to allow staffing levels on the regular ferry to be reduced, led to a net increase in total costs because the foot ferry was contracted to a private contractor so it had to continue running (due to contract conditions) even though the Coast Guard required continuation of the original ferry service staffing levels in order to meet safety regulations, despite the presumed reduction in passengers carried.

1. What is the rationale for favouring all other lower mainland and Gulf Island areas at the expense of Bowen Islanders?

2. Why is the BC Ferry Corporation ten year plan provided only as a cabinet document, and therefore not publicly available, even under the Freedom of Information Act?

3. Why was the established and mutually agreed stakeholder consultation process, with the Bowen Island Advisory Transportation Committee (BIATC), ignored and bypassed by the government officials and/or by BC Ferry Corporation personnel in 1998? Why has it once again been jettisoned in 1999 despite promises and further volunteer effort? Will the new municipality have any better luck?

4. What measures, including consultation with stakeholders, have been taken to ensure that any replacement vessel is of suitable design to meet the specific needs of Bowen Island's stakeholders? Why has the proposed ferry dock closure not been subject to public discussion and input?

It has been agreed by the highest levels of governments that the ferry system is an integral component of the BC Highway system, which is part of the transportation infrastructure of the province. Capital works and maintenance of roads are paid out of tax dollars. Various sectors receive subsidies. Any reduction in ferry service affects the economic value of Bowen (land values, production costs, infrastructure investment, ...) both to its residents and to the province as a whole. Any accounting system that simply looks at ferry operating costs to determine Return On Investment (ROI) is an incomplete, flawed accounting system and thus invalid. Ignoring or externalising economic inputs, values and costs is an endemic problem in our society, and must be stopped.

The Bowen Ferry service ran at a “loss” of approximately $1.2M in 1998 (one BCFC pronouncement claimed $1.5M). It carried 1.2 million passengers. Thus the “subsidy” per passenger was roughly $1. Bowen ferry traffic has grown 100% in the last five years. Growth on Bowen added considerable value to the province (as above) and provided employment. What subsidies have been provided for for activities related to pulp mills and shipbuilding on similar grounds? Is it even a subsidy? Surely building infrastructure is an investment that increases value and productivity.

The West Coast Express receives a subsidy of around $11 per passenger while roads and bridges elsewhere in the lower mainland are improved at public expense to facilitate traffic flow into Vancouver. Multiple subsidised means of transport are thus available to many lower mainlanders providing choice, and hence implementing true Traffic Demand Management (TDM) by allowing the most effective choices to be made by users.

The large mainland population supports many specialised suppliers not found on Bowen. Like others, Bowen Islanders need to access these facilities as part of their business, working and other activities. Many activities are directed at scattered areas, and involve goods or other passengers.

BCFC plans seem to assume that people only use their cars to commute to downtown, and have plenty of spare time. Many fewer cars would be taken on the ferry if that were the case. Few people would pay in excess of $60 per week additional car ferry fares, plus parking and running expenses, if they simply wanted to travel downtown and back, to a fixed place of work, carrying only a briefcase, with time and carriage of goods of no concern.

At a 1998 forum UBC Professor Bill Waters was quoted as saying the case for subsidizing ferries was not strong because the cost of ferries lies in the annual operating costs, not the construction. Stephen Rogers, former Minister of Transportation & Highways went further, suggesting a case can be made for abandoning communities that rely on unprofitable minor routes. These are astounding positions to take, given the billion dollar fast ferry program and the real economic value to the whole province of the Bowen Island community, both as consumers and providers. David Birchall, President of the Galiano Chamber of Commerce, was nearer the mark when he pointed out that if ferry subsidies equivalent to those available for the same length of highways were available, the BCFC annual deficit would disappear and the debt could be retired.

5. Why is it considered fair to facilitate access to big city facilities for a major segment of the population and deliberately to restrict it for a small group of others simply because it is apparently easy to do?

6. Where are the independently audited accounting figures to substantiate the claim that any proposed change in ferry service will save money? Where is the business case, or the engineering evidence on which ferry dock closure is based?

7. What happens when ferry service is disrupted (older vessels breaking down, dock repairs that provide unsatisfactory alternative service, reductions in service for whatever reason, etc). Bowen will not only lack adequate ferry service, but other essential services (Hydro repair, food deliveries, fuel supplies [including fuel for emergency services—vehicles, generators], ambulance service to the mainland at night, ...) will also be disrupted, likely when most needed.

9. Foot ferry service only is not acceptable. Public transport is frequently not an option because it does not deal adequately with: (a) individuals transporting goods and materials, including groceries; (b) time constraints (personal schedules and/or absolute limits on available time); (c) multiple destinations; or (d) personal security issues -- carrying valuables, confidential material, etc. which cannot simply be left on public luggage racks or managed on crowded busses. People will use foot ferry facilities and the public transportation system if it works for them. If it will not serve their needs, how can they be said to “use” it.

10. Any reduction in service will lead to stagnating business opportunities, even more depressed house prices, and will present unreasonable hurdles for new business ventures and tourism. In case the BCFC does not consider this to be a problem, why do they say moving the Cap will generate increased tourism and business opportunties on its new service route? Summer overloads on Bowen will exceed those of the winter. Reductions in service will also cause a loss of value for the province as a whole (for various reasons touched on elsewhere in this account of the issues).

It is worth noting, at this point, that the population of Bowen roughly doubles in the summer, from around 3000 to around 6000. In addition, many groups use the Island for recreation. Most of these users, like Bowen Islanders, pay taxes in BC and will be short changed by an inadequate ferry service, quite apart from the lost opportunities for local business.

Saltspring Island, mooted as one of the areas that would get improved ferry service as a result of any reshuffling of ferry vessels, is already served by three ferry routes. Saltspring is far more self-contained in terms of schools and other public or private facilities. There is less need for commuting as many Saltspring Islanders work on the island, where there are many more job opportunties than on Bowen. It seems unreasonable to provide improved ferry service there at the expense of Bowen, when Bowen is so very dependent on one ferry service, which must meet all the needs.

The original BC Ferries plans that that raised the issues giving birth to FerryCURE are detailed in the January 1999 issue of their Soundings broadsheet, which is marked as a “Planning Update Newsletter”, and subtitled “The routes they are a-changin' ”. A number of issues specific to the misbegotten Howe Sound Queen plan, and the associated but continuing lack of communication, are set out in the newsletter, along with rough calculations showing that Mayne Island would be scheduled to receive service at four times the rate per inhabitant that Bowen Island would get under the plan. They would be provided with 1.73 return-ferry-trip car places per inhabitant, per day whilst Bowen Islanders would receive only 0.43 return-ferry-trip car places per inhabitant per day. Check it out.

11. History tells us unequivocally that Bowen's need for ferry service expands each year (about 10% per year). Where is the spare capacity, backup, or planning for that growth? How is this affected by the serious cost over-runs on the fast ferry project?

12. How will safety and behavious issuer be dealt with if a large number of school children are carried on a foot ferry? There are already problems on the much better equipped Cap. Will the foot ferry be able to sail in all weathers? What if a different ferry with fragmented accomodation is allocated to the Bowen run (Route 8)? The local RCMP have already pointed out the problems with such a change in a memo from Corporal Wayne Mossman.

13. If the aim of any changes is to discourage vehicle traffic and encourage foot traffic, how come it was proposed that the foot ferry fares should roughly double in the plan proposed in late 1998?

A report in the London, UK, “Independent” newspaper reported a government strategy of Traffic Demand Management by raising parking and transport fees for the London area. At the same time, the public transport system (particularly the famous “Tube” system) is reported as breaking down. (Independent, 99-01-16) We seem to be facing an analogous situation in BC, except it is only Bowen Islanders who are being targetted; so far—beware the rest of BC. The strategy of divide and conquer is as old as history. Are all the highways to be privatised? Is everything to be privatised? If so, what is left to justify taxation? If the government is responsible for infrastructure, and ferries are part of the highways infrastructure, a level playing field is needed over the province, and especially the lower mainland, of which Bowen forms part.

14. How can the government and the BCFC justify what appears as disciminatory treatement of Bowen Islanders compared to others in the Province? Or is this exercise a taste of what is in store for everyone?

15. What would be the cost of parking enforcement and collection in Snug Cove, including diversion of scarce RCMP person power? What will be the effect on businesses of any new restrictions on the Bowen Island Trunk Road/Parking Lot? Would parking restrictions be good for central Snug Cove businesses, or simply drive business to other areas (Cates Hill, Artisan Square, ...)

16. What was the point of running the Century Class trial and passenger survey? Was it another waste of money, or will the findings be used, in combination with further consultation, to meet the needs of Bowen stakeholders?

Available information alleges that the BCFC has run into serious financial and other problems, not because of costs of existing services, but because it has been politically motivated to be a client and provider for local shipbuilding interests. The suggestion is that the fast ferries are an integral part of the current BCFC capital and operational problems due to: cost over-runs (nearly $400 million for three ferries that were budgeted at $70 million each); mechanical problems; operational problems (coast erosion, hazards to small craft and people due to wake effects; hazards to marine life due to the scouring effect of the propulsion system, damage to waterfront facilities and property ...); and structural problems.

Experience this year has shown that these problems are occurring, yet the fast ferries are not providing the reduction in total journey time promised.

Additionally, the engines are reportedly required to run at 95% of full power, leading to excess maintenance and replacement frequency (CTV 6pm news 99-01-19).

17. Is it possible that the BCFC troubles arise from ill-advised ventures as a ship builder and as a ship-building client usurping its legitimate mission of being: “dedicated to satisfying customer, community and government needs for safe, efficient, effective and reliable ferry transportation services”?

18. Is it possible that the BCFC is unable to meet the needs of the communities it serves because it mismanaged its resources and exhausted them on unsuitable new ferries and terminal facilities?

19. Has the business and technical case for the fast ferries, which have quite possibly distorted BCFC service priorities, been independently evaluated? If not, why not? If so, what were the detailed results? Mr. Morfitt, the BC Auditor General, tells us the fast ferries project was subject to mismanagement, political interference, and unrealistic budgetting, amongst other things (Vancouver Sun 99-10-29 page 1).

20. Have the Coast Guard approved the emergency evacuation procedures for the fast ferries? What were the results of the trials? Can we see detailed results and conclusions? (BCFC was calling for 240 volunteers to test the system on Saturday 99-01-16; the volunteers were required to sign a waiver).

21. Why was the community not informed of the developing plans in the southern Gulf Islands as soon as the plans were mooted? (The Trust and GVRD representatives learned of the plans by the same means the rest of the community did, so it appears to be a BC Ferries problem that perhaps senior BCFC management could shed some light on).

22. Has an environmental review of the fast ferry operation been required or conducted? If not, why not? If so, what were the results? Can we see any relevant reports?

23. Can we please have a detailed description of the types of vessels in the BCFC fleet, their specifications, their current and planned assignments, and the economic and social justification for these arrangements? For example, the Queen of Capilano's sister ship, the Queen of Cumberland, is apparently already operating in the Southern Gulf Islands. What is the business case for both these vessels being assigned down there? What is the social case? Can we see relevant reports?

A passenger survey was carried out on the Cap early in 1999. The purpose of the survey was not made clear to all those who were asked to participate. It is noteworthy that a number of people were concerned that there was no control to prevent individuals filling in multiple questionaires, and there was no regular arrangement for collecting the completed questionaires, and thus no guarantee that all the responses were collected.

24. Why was a passenger survey carried out on Cap sailings recently without addressing the issues of most concern to Bowen Islanders. The wording could be interpreted as looking for a desired outcome (namely conditions to justify reduced ferry service, and the instigation of multi-stage time-intensive transportation arrangements for commuters and others involving busses, ferries, parking etc. In any case, are the results of such a survey credible?

25. Is BCFC a for-profit or a non-profit corporation? What is its mandate? If it is for-profit, where does the profit go? If it is non-profit, what is the justification for a risky and apparently unnecessary investment in untried new technology?

26. Reid Crowther were asked to provide a report on the plans for Route 8 (168K file) (the Horseshoe Bay to Snug Cove route). What questions were the consultants asked to answer, and what constraints formed the context for the study?

27. At the start of 1999, BCFC claimed that there was spare capacity on the Bowen/Horseshoe Bay route (Route 8). Why was this is used as a justification for increasing the fares? Surely the way to encourage additional foot traffic is to decrease the fares (for example, providing season's passes at a very attractive rate)?

28. The widely studied and agreed Bowen Island Official Community Plan (OCP) calls for the ferry service to follow demand. Why would BCFC unilaterally decide to impose Traffic Demand Management instead of planning for supply to follow demand as agreed?

The next issue/questions ignores the fact that most transportation in the province receives some kind of direct or indirect subsidy.

29. Has the BCFC in co-operation with the GVTA considered the possibility of putting some of the money due from the Bowen Transportation tax levy towards the ferry Bowen (Route 8) deficit? This could eliminate the deficit, and meet stated BCFC goals for individual routes. If not, why not? If so, what was the outcome and the rationale for the decision? A proper ferry service is likely more important than an Island bus service. Has such a plan been proposed to the BIATC or other Island representatives? Can both be funded from that pot?

30. Has the BCFC considered that several minutes of turn-around time could be saved when using the Cap, or any other suitable vessel used on Route 8, by installing doors at the upper level of the vessel to allow the passenger loading ramps installed at Horseshoe Bay to be used to load and unload passengers at the same time as vehicle loading and unloading take place? The reported cost of $40,000 for the Cap would work out at less than 1 cent per passenger carried, over a five year period, and would save roughly 24 minutes a day. Turnaround time could also be saved by extending the Snug Cove ferry dock and including a dog-leg, so that ferry vessels could avoid the time-consuming manoevering required to angle into the current dock. Has this option been considered? What would it cost? How much time would be saved?

31. What is the relationship between BC Ferries and BC Highways, in light of the politcally endorsed view that they form part of the same infrastructure. Should the Ministry of Transportation and Highways (MOTH) be converted into a Crown Corporation? Should the BCFC be taken over by MOTH? What are the issues in such questions? Is it right that those served by ferries should be disadvantaged in financial as well as operational terms?

32. There seems to be a direct conflict between the BCFC mission statement and the rationale put forward for degrading service and increasing fares on the Bowen run (Route 8). It is not legal to down-zone housing areas without due process, why should it be considered reasonable to “down-zone” ferry service without due process?

33. The Cap's sister ship (the Queen of Cumberland) has “tween” decks, allowing greater capacity. Could the Cap be upgraded in the same way? If not, why not? If yes, what are the plans, and how will the upgrading be carried out if there are no spare vessels?

Some Bowen Islanders expressed a nostalgia for the old days, including the Hound. They feel that there is merit in having less adequate ferry facilities as a way of controlling growth on the Island.

34. How far back in time do such people wish to turn the clock? Why stop at the Hound. The Sannie ships were picturesque and would certainly reduce the car traffic and keep people away. What else should be changed? What is the role of the long-debated and agreed Official Community Plan (OCP) in all this? It calls for ferry service to follow demand, not dictate it. The OCP was completed in 1996/7.

35. Last, but by no means least, what effect will any proposed changes have on BCFC workers? There have been rumours of layoffs and forced relocation for the workers involved. What is the current morale of the ferry workers, and what effect will the re-assignments and other dislocations have on it?


Page last updated 99-11-13