Queen of Cap officers face off with ferry directors

by Jacqueline Massey

(The Bowen Island Undercurrent, January 22 1999, p1: with permission)

Officers and engineers of the Queen of Capilano met with the board of directors of the British Columbia Ferry Corporation Wednesday. They were armed with studies and business cases backing up their arguments for a cost efficient approach to ferry service on Route 8, the Snug Cove to Horseshoe Bay run.

Among their reports was the case for keeping the Queen of Capilano on the Bowen run where, they set out to prove, the ship could be run more effectively and economically than any other vessel in the BC Ferries fleet. They were joined by their counterparts from the Southern Gulf Islands and Swartz Bay who also hoped to persuade the board of directors they had solutions to individual route cost over-runs.

The employees feel they've been snubbed by management who initially invited them to get involved in the stakeholders process and then proceeded to ignore their advice. "Employees, those who really know about running the ships, have been left out of the loop," said Peter Ross, the senior chief engineer of the Queen of Capilano.

Ross has worked for BC Ferries for 18 years and says he's become more and more alarmed by decisions made by management. He says he is concerned about the future of the Corporation and considers speaking out a "matter of integrity" to demonstrate how "deeply wrong" the decisions are.

The employees may have chosen the right time to gain the board's attention. The recent upheaval in the Corporation has amplified the uncertainty about the company's viability.

It came with the sudden resignation last weekend of its president and chief executive officer, Tom Ward, followed by the government admitting that the bill for the three Pacificat fast ferries ordered for the ferry corporation will now likely exceed $300 million, $90 million more than projected. Renewed doubts about the performance of the high-speed, aluminum-hull catamaran ferries and the potential of selling them to international markets have underlined accusations of mismanagement on both the part of BC Ferries and the NDP government

Meanwhile, closer to home, dismay over recent decisions affecting local service has prompted personnel of the Queen of Capilano to take action. Some of the officers and engineers of the crew initially acted in response to a business case for a century class ferry prepared by the planning department of BC Ferries back in September, 1997.

They proceeded to dismantle the business case, addressing their concerns to Ward (then president and CEO). They refuted much of the technical information used to build an argument in favour of deploying a century class ferry, like the Skeena Queen, on the Bowen run.

In the their critique of the business plan, the crew proposed a number of ways to cut route expenses, meet sailing schedules and increase vehicle capacity thereby reducing overloads. They submitted a report to management which they believed illustrated that the Queen of Capilano, with modifications, could prove to be the most feasible choice of vessel for the Bowen Island, not only for now but for the ensuing 10 years.

They recommended that the seven-year old Queen of Capilano be fitted with quick deploying stowable ramps, estimated to cost $2 million, resulting in an increase in vehicle capacity of up to 142 cars. They also argued that the ship should be modified so that overhead walkways in Horseshoe Bay can be used during loading and unloading. This would cost approximately $40,000 and could be done without taking the vessel out of service.

Dave Elliott, the Horseshoe Bay Terminal Supervisor, estimated that if the passenger gangways were used for loading and unloading, a savings of up to five minutes of in-port time every trip the Queen of Capilano makes into Horseshoe Bay would be realized. This would result in an additional 80 minutes in the schedule per day (assuming a five minute savings on 16 round trips).

The planning analysis team in strategic and corporate planning for BC Ferries agreed that the minor modifications to the Queen of Capilano would be well worth the cost. In a report written last August, they stated that the time savings would dramatically improve on-time performance and eliminate some overtime. Their report concluded that: "In 1996/97 Route 8 reported 7,689 overtime hours at a cost of $382,476. The minimal investment of $40,000 to allow use of the passenger gangways could be quickly recovered by eliminating even a small portion of overtime."

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