Islander's ferry fears confirmed

by Jacqueline Massey

(The Bowen Island Undercurrent, January 8 1999, p1: with permission)

They've done it again. The British Columbia Ferry Corporation has incensed the community and alienated those who were supposedly working alongside management to try to come up with solutions to ease the burden of the financially-ailing company.

Local people have responded heatedly to rumours that surfaced days before Christmas that the 90-car Queen of Capilano would be replaced by an older and smaller vessel, the 70-car Howe Sound Queen. Speculation on the return of a vessel judged inadequate for the Bowen route seven years ago sparked fears of endless overloads, erratic schedules and sailing cancellations due to the inability of the vessel to cross during poor weather conditions.

"It's the last straw," said Helga Murray, a Tunstall Bay resident who moved to Bowen four years ago. Murray, who rides the ferry a few times a week often accompanied by her two young children, says the deteriorating service provided by BC Ferries is "simply unacceptable."

She echoes the sentiment of many people who call Bowen Island home, including local members of CURE, the Coalition of Users to Reestablish Equity. The grass-roots group, formed last year to fight what they identified as unfair policies practised by BC Ferries, are re-mobilizing to take action against the latest proposal to hit the shores of Bowen.

"A large number of people who I've spoken to are absolutely besides themselves at having been treated so contemptuously," said Richard Goth, an executive of CURE. The organization has planned a public meeting next Thursday to develop strategy.

Meanwhile members of Bowen's Advisory Transportation Committee have issued a statement in response to the announcement by BC Ferries to move the Queen of Capilano. They are "outraged" by the "unilateral decision" made by BC Ferries management.

The BIATC was alerted of the proposal to move the Queen of Capilano to the Salt Spring Island-Swartz Bay route after an internal BC Ferries memorandum was leaked to them in mid December. Days prior to that, members of the committee had been assured by officials of BC Ferries that they had no plans to relocate Bowen's ferry. "This direct misleading of a stakeholders committee by BC Ferries is unacceptable, and will render further discussions marginal, as the BIATC can no longer be assured of future discussions in good faith with BC Ferries," wrote Adam Holbrook, the committee's chair.

When members of the BIATC confronted ferry officials with the conflicting information and its source was revealed, they admitted that major changes to the local service were being considered. Glen Brown, vice-president, inter-island services, confirmed that, as a move to reduce costs and increase operating efficiency, BC Ferries is looking at redeploying a number of vessels.

He says the initiative sprang from the Southern Gulf Island Advisory committee who have been engaged in finding ways to decrease the cost base of ferry service to five islands. "It's gone through several iterations and so the most recent one is the one that shows the best return."

As to why people on Bowen weren't informed that the Queen of Capilano was part of the equation in the new service plan for the gulf islands, Brown offers this explanation: "I guess that part of it has been that there hasn't been any linkage between the two stakeholder committees."

While he stresses that no definite decisions have been made, he admits that the proposals look attractive to him. "We should keep this discussion going on and see if it comes to pass."

The transfer of the Queen of Capilano to the southern Gulf Islands, tentatively planned for April, stands to save the corporation $2.4 million a year, Brown says. By replacing it with the Howe Sound Queen, costs would be reduced by about $1 million on the Bowen run, he says.

Brown says he is also considering a business case, still in draft form, that recommends that a passenger-only ferry be launched on the Bowen route.

This initiative would be linked with the new BC Transit bus service scheduled to begin April 4.

Page last updated 99-003-03