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  • Gayle Baker

BC Ferries 101

February 28:

Fourteen came to this session, with a focus on BC Ferries. The conversation began by briefly re-visiting Salt Spring’s exemption from the Speculation and Vacancy Tax. The group felt that a conversation about our inclusion should begin. Jessica suggested that the CRD Community Economic Development Commission be contacted to see if they wanted lead this discussion. (I have contacted Chair Francine Carlin concerning this suggestion.)

Jessica announced that the Chamber had finally received a long-awaited grant for $80,000. Her goal for the use of this money is to create strong economic alliance in which all groups participating in our island’s economic health partner to work together. Funds would be spent on strategic planning efforts as well as relationship-building among all stakeholders. She is hopeful that a part time staff member would be funded to lighten her load a bit to allow her to focus on this complex initiative.

The idea of a Habitat for Humanity Restore for Salt Spring was brought up again, and there was widespread support for exploring this initiative. (I have left a message for the administrator of Habitat for Humanity but have not yet received a response.)

Lights (and the safety they bring to dark areas in our community) seem to be emerging as an issue - having been mentioned twice recently at ASK Salt Spring as well as a discussion at the CRD Transportation Commission. Who is making sure the lights work? Who is assessing if they are bright enough? Who is assessing where additional lighting is needed. While BC Hydro is responsible for lighting, the operational costs are paid for by CRD taxes. As it stands, CRD staff will pass on information about non-working lights to BC Hydro, but there is no one routinely checking their functioning. A seeming gap, this issue of Ganges lighting will be presented to the Chamber at their next meeting. It is hoped that there will be support for this initiative and that a volunteer can be recruited to keep watch. (Jo Ann visits Centennial Park frequently at night and has promised to get me a list of non-working/too dim lights in and near the park. I will give this list to CRD. Jo Ann will follow-up to make sure the identified issue is addressed within a reasonable timeframe.)

One participant wondered why we do not have business licenses on Salt Spring. Shouldn’t the Chamber be responsible for monitoring new businesses to avoid hurtful competition? The answer from Jessica was a resounding “No.” The Chamber’s responsibility is to support its members. This responsibility does not extend to taking any role in helping to shape what businesses function here. It was noted that healthy competition is necessary. Without it, Salt Springers will leave the island to get better prices - something that is good for no one here. It was noted that Windsor Plywood is concerned about their lack of competition, worried that too many folks will go off-island to get their building materials, lacking confidence that, without local competition, prices will be the best they can get.

The guest who cannot get a family physician returned. She explained that when she and her family went to Lady Minto to get a required form for their son (for athletics, I believe,) they were turned away, Eventually they got one at Mill Bay Walk-in Clinic, necessitating a missed day of work (and school) as well as significant costs to take the ferry to Vancouver Island.

To address her inability to get a doctor, one guest suggested a process to routinely update our physicians’ files, culling those who have either moved away or passed. Would having accurate lists of patients allow our doctors to accommodate more?

Would the following information be valuable?

1. How do the current Primary Care Providers (PCP) cull their patient lists?

2. Do our PCPs have a specific case load number as their maximum?

3. Does each PCP maintain a waiting list?

4. Do PCPs continue to take in new patients from the Lady Minto ER? In other words, some residents get a MD after seeing the MD in Emergency and then are followed as the diagnosis requires continued care.

What about one primary care provider wait list for the entire island would greatly assist both the residents and providers. This, if adopted, could it be a function of the Family Practice Division chapter, Island Health, SSHAN, the SSI Community Health Society or ASK Salt Spring.

(This information - as well as our guests’ contact information - has been passed on to Sara Gogo and Katie Waters in hopes of some answers.)

Should our BC Building Codes be “One Size Fits All?” Why should foundations need to be 18” deep and pipes 24” deep to avoid a hard freeze? Shouldn’t southern areas in BC have more appropriate building codes - maybe focusing on drainage rather than freezing issues?

The conversation switched to BC Ferries, with Harold Swierenga, Chair of Salt Spring’s BC Ferries Advisory Committee, fielding the questions. Marine law does require “One Size Fits All.” For example, our coastal ferries must adhere to the same standards as those ocean-going ones bound for Haida Gwaii. When a storm looms, the same standards for cancellation apply to protected routes as to ocean-going routes.

When asked why ferries were recently cancelled before the predicted storm hit, this provided part of the answer. The second piece was that taking risks with our safety and their vessels is simply not part of the equation for BC Ferries. Decisions like this are based on the judgment of captains and marine professionals rather than that of the finance, expedience, or convenience. A third component or this perceived increase in sailing cancellations is our changing weather. One guest who tracks weather and has done so for decades, has proof that winds are getting stronger and are shifting so that south to south east winds are significantly more prevalent. It was also noted that, while ferries are built to face severe weather, docking, especially in unprotected areas like Tsawwassen, can necessitate cancelling sailings as well. Even locally, the Vesuvius-Crofton run aligns with the prevailing winds to make it more treacherous than the more protected Fulford and Long Harbour routes.

Why can’t there be a reduced rate for teenagers or a family rate. Those who are 12 years old have to pay a full fare (unless going to participate in athletic events) - a burdensome cost for many families traveling together. While Harold saw little hope instituting a family rate, he did see some hope of a reduced fee for 12-16 (or 18) year olds. As this would be a provincial issue, he suggested speaking to Adam. He also suggested presenting the idea at the next public BC Ferries meeting May 11 at 2:15 in the Harbour House’s Crofton Room.

Any change like this would have to identify a cost-recovery plan to balance the loss of revenue. While BC Ferries receives approximately $191,000,000 a year in provincial Ferry Transportation Fees, an offset for any reduction of revenue would have to be found.

We learned that each ferry is required to carry a proscribed number of certified staff. Many of them run ancillary services - food, gift shop - while also fulfilling quota requirements - bringing in $64,000,000 in net revenue each year.

When asked whether BC Ferries could have pink slips to distribute, Harold reminded us that these pink travel passes are the responsibility of our Medical Service Plan (MSP) not BC Ferries.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) is in the process of a general visioning exercise of coastal ferry sservices. There is still time to participate and the form can be accessed on-line. BC Ferries is clear that the next 50 years will probably be significantly different and will change far more rapidly than the last 50 years. As a part of this visioning, there is indication that there will be movement toward the two ferry system - more imminently for the Vesuvius- Crofton run, but possible also for the Fulford route. While operating and the purchase of another vessel would add significant costs, some of that would be offset by eliminating the need for terminal and parking lot upgrades.

A part of the visioning is the transition to electric vessels with new Island Class boats. Ferries with that electric-only capability will be running soon, temporarily using marine diesel until adequate charging infrastructure is in place. Given the enormous amount of electricity that will be needed, it is predicted that this charging will be done off Salt Spring Island.

One guest asked if BC Ferries realized that all its terminals could be under water in as little as a decade. Harold responded that BC Ferries is aware of climate change factors.

When asked about a passenger-only ferry, Harold reminded us of that, of the three passenger-only ferry services (one the recent Victoria-Vancouver service), two have gone bankrupt, leaving only the Victoria - Seattle Clipper. If the need were there, it may be different, but Harold suspected that it simple]y is not there.

As ferries improve, Harold hopes that bikes will be better accommodated. That bought up a conversation about the depressing area dogs are required to use when their humans are walk-ons, forcing some to take their cars rather than submitting themselves and their dogs to the rather awful kennel-like accommodations.

Then - the coordination between transit and BC Ferries was discussed, with the plea that BC Ferries work with BC Transit to provide a space out of the weather for transit passengers to wait at the terminal. This could be as simple as a large (there are often over 100 passengers waiting) overhang so that all do not get soaked while waiting for the bus.

We were told not to assume that logging trucks get a break leaving Salt Spring, paying far less to return empty. According to Harold, their costs are prorated to take into account their heavy weights and longer lengths when leaving our island. On that subject: commercial rates are now being charged for personal and recreational vehicles. When overheight charges were eliminated, revenue loss was balanced by charging all vehicles commercial rates for the length that exceeds 20 feet. Harold feels that this charge is unfair for recreational users with boats and campers. He would prefer to see a charge per foot for over-long vehicles, something that could soon be easily done using laser technology.

Harold spoke briefly of the danger to drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists at Fulford terminal. He will be proposing a partnership with CRD Transportation Commission to construct a pathway as well as creating more parking. This would be accomplished by slightly increasing the size and capacity of the current parking area as well as moving employee parking to a nearby lot owned by BC Ferries. While the costs for these improvements would not be that high for BC Ferries, it would significantly alleviate danger in the short-term as well as being a component of a long-term terminal renovation were that option chosen instead of converting to a two-ferry system.

When asked if barges could carry some commercial traffic more inexpensively, Harold responded that is was believed that the market for this system was simply not there. Also, many barges do not allow passengers, necessitating drivers to cross separately and creating some overwhelming complexities of quickly reuniting drivers with their vehicles if they had to travel separately.

Extending well-beyond the normal closing of 1:00, everyone thanked Harold for taking the time to come to answer our questions and to teach up more about BC Ferries. I believe we all learned quite a bit about this service upon which we all depend.


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