Queen of Cap now faces new threats

Bert Paul
Director Ferry CURE

(The Bowen Island Undercurrent, July 23rd 1999, p1: with permission)

On July 5, the BC Ferry Corporation proposed to its Executive Management Committee a renewed strategy to replace Bowen Island's Queen of Capilano with the Skeena Queen--not only an unsuitable, poorly designed substitute but one that the Corporation says could result in reduced sailings on the Bowen route.

Until recently, Ferry CURE-the island's home-grown grassroots coalition-had been working behind the scenes for several months as director Grant Chitty served on the Bowen Island Ferry Task Force, whose members are appointed by political representatives.

But now that this new threat has arisen-and because of Ferry CURE's frustration at the overall lack of progress-the organization has leaped into action again.

First and foremost, it has commissioned Victor Waese-a Harvard MBA and CGA in public practice on Bowen Island-to present a formal business case to the Corporation to retain the Capilano on the route. The submission will make the case that virtually no real cost savings or performance improvements will be achieved by replacing her.

Waese has already identified that a better objective for BC Ferries than cost-cutting attempts should be to increase net operating income. For example, increasing the capacity of the Capilano by almost 50% would also raise revenues by 50%. Together with a modest price rise on a much larger revenue base, justified by better service-and combined with Horseshoe Bay ramps to speed up passenger loading-this could well make the run more cost-effective.

Such a plan works only if the Capilano is retained. The Skeena, with an initial rated capacity of up to 15 more cars, would soon be outmoded on the Bowen route: she cannot be modified with the addition of stowable vehicle ramps to handle more volume. But the Capilano can be double-decked and will then be able to carry up to 145 vehicles. And unlike the Skeena, she can be refitted for passenger access from overhead skywalks-an inexpensive modification that would greatly accelerate loading.

The Skeena has many other flaws. Among them: 140 fewer seats than the Capilano; a car-deck configuration that splits passengers up into four lounges--which senior ferry officers warn will cause loading delays and create safety hazards; An on-time performance significantly poorer than the Capilano's, based on April 1998 trial runs on the Bowen route; A requirement for expensive and time-consuming modifications to the Snug Cove dock (according to senior officers of the Capilano).

A final troubling point, as spelled out in BC Ferries' strategy paper to its Executive Management Committee: "Additionally, with the Skeena on Route 8 [the Bowen run], the Corporation would have the option of reducing the number of sailings per shift."

On another front--the BC Government's over-budget fast-ferry program--Ferry CURE has commissioned a professional baseline study of three intertidal sites on Bowen Island to assess the damaging environmental effects of the PacifiCat on our shoreline.

Bill Austin of Khoyatan Marine Laboratory in Cowichan Bay has agreed to measure the wave actions churned up by the first fast ferry. As he points out, "the wash produced by the new catamaran fast ferries is up to nine times more powerful than those on conventional ferries, according to a technical report by the BC Ferries vice-president of corporate safety and standards and the director of BC Ferries Deas Dock Maintenance Facility."

Ferry CURE's Bert Paul has recently appeared on television and been quoted in several newspaper accounts demanding that the ferry corporation be held accountable for the PacifiCat's impact on small-craft marine safety as well as the environment. These demands-and dramatic photos of the ferry's enormous wake threatening the lives of boaters-have already forced the corporation to slow the fast ferry's speed to 25 from 37 knots between Horseshoe Bay and Passage Island.

In collaboration with property owners on Bowen and in West Vancouver, Ferry CURE's executive is also considering a "nuisance" lawsuit against BC Ferries for acting in a reckless manner by damaging beachfront, endangering pleasure craft and threatening fish habitat.

Ferry CURE will continue to act on behalf of its members to question the $250-million cost overrun and call for a public inquiry into the fast-ferry program. The organization strongly maintains that the overrun is a public-policy cost to establish an aluminum ship-building industry in B.C.-an expense that should be shared by all provincial taxpayers, not just ferry users.

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