'Save Our Service' meeting draws crowd

by Jacqueline Massey

(The Bowen Island Undercurrent, January 22 1999, p2: with permission)

There was standing room only at the local Legion a week ago Thursday when the public packed the hall to discuss what could be done to combat major changes to services proposed by the British Columbia Ferry Corporation. The event was billed as a call to S.O.S. -- Save Our Service -- and hosted by Ferry CURE, (Coalition of Users to Re-establish Equity).

Approximately 140 people showed up to express their anger and dismay at the intention of the ferry corporation to redeploy the 90-car Queen of Capilano and replace it with a smaller vessel. BC Ferries says that by bringing back the 70-car Howe Sound Queen and running a passenger-only ferry during peak periods, it can save $500,000 on the Snug Cove to Horseshoe Bay run and experience further cost reductions on a system-wide basis.

But opponents of the plan have argued that there is no way that the Howe Sound Queen would be able to handle the existing traffic, even with an alternative for foot passengers. Furthermore, the aging ship is slower and will be unable to maintain current schedules, it is unable to cope in bad weather and it is ill-equipped for seniors and for physically-challenged passengers. All in all, pointed out members of Ferry CURE, is it the wrong ship for Bowen.

Directors of the grass roots organization, which registered as a society almost one year ago, asked the disgruntled gathering for a mandate to continue their activism on behalf of community members. "We need to have the numbers to back it up," Richard Goth told the crowd. Those in attendance responded by snapping up memberships that were being sold at the door for $5 each.

Ferry CURE's immediate goal is to try to force BC Ferries to defer its final decision about moving the Queen of Capilano from the Bowen route. They expect to achieve this through various tactics which Bert Paul outlined.

Ferry CURE has filed a formal complaint with the ombudsman for the province of British Columbia. They have asked for an investigation into the decision by the Corporation to implement proposals that would cause a reduction in local ferry service. They claim the decision is "unreasonable, arbitrary and in contravention of the terms of reference of the stakeholders' liaison committee."

The volunteer-run group is also taking steps to lodge a formal complaint with Transport Canada concerning the appearance of a conflict of interest. Bowen's recently appointed harbour master and wharfinger is a principle in the company building a passenger-only ferry that BC Ferries is considering running from Snug Cove to Horseshoe Bay. Whether the signing of a contract between Astrolabe Marine and BC Ferries would create a conflict of interest is yet to be determined, but if so, it may complicate the ferry corporation's plans to launch the vessel during peak periods.

In response to questions about what could be done by the public, Ferry CURE executives urged everyone to write letters protesting the actions of the crown corporation. They made available lists of the addresses of politicians including ministers and cabinet members and executives of BC Ferries. In addition, a petition was called for and plans for its circulation were formulated.

The gathering was the first of what will likely be a series of public protests staged by Ferry CURE. "We will not stop this without a public outcry," Paul told the crowd.

On Sunday, Ferry CURE is asking the public to come to a rally in Horseshoe Bay at 1 p.m. A mass meeting on strategy is planned for Tuesday, January 26 in the evening at the community school.

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