BC Ferries Managers Come to Salt Spring to Listen and Share - Promising to Come Again Soon!
Twenty-five joined this ASK Salt Spring gathering to welcome Karen Johnson and Emma McWalter from BC Ferries. After our Territorial Acknowledgement, we learned a bit about Karen, Community Engagement Executive Director and Emma, Manager Terminal Strategic Planning, and what excites and delights them. They are both thrilled with the completion of the long-awaited Performance Term 6 (https://www.bcferrycommission.ca/commissioner-begins-price-cap-setting-process-upon-receipt-of-bc-ferries-submission-for-performance-term-6-april-1-2024-to-march-31-2028/). As this is the time for public input, both Karen and Emma encouraged us to add our feedback before March 30, 2023 to help guide those important decisions for Salt Spring’s ferry service.
Many of us were not surprised to learn that Salt Spring has been identified as a hot spot, indicating an area with capacity constraint issues. While Emma and Karen encouraged us all to read the voluminous document, Emma offered us a summary of its recommendations for Salt Spring:
A two-ferry service for the Vesuvius-Crofton route (#6), with estimated implementation fall 2026,
The addition of two round-trips per day, seven days a week, in the summer (June-Labour Day) on the Fulford route (# 4), beginning in 2023, and
A summer two ferry service for the Fulford-Swartz Bay route, with expected implementation approximately 2027.
As these are BC Ferries recommendations to the Ferry Commission (https://www.bcferrycommission.ca/about/), Emma and Karen reminded us that our support for these service enhancements would be helpful. While the deadline for this community input has not yet been announced, information about this deadline should be available soon.
We learned that the implementation of these recommendations is tied closely to the Ferry Commission’s price cap decision as proposed service enhancements have clear financial implications. Based upon this recommendation by BC Ferries, as well as community input, the Ferry Commission will announce a preliminary price cap on March 31, 2023, with a final decision on September 30, 2023. https://www.bcferrycommission.ca/commissioner-begins-price-cap-setting-process-upon-receipt-of-bc-ferries-submission-for-performance-term-6-april-1-2024-to-march-31-2028/
The first question from a participant asked how soon BC Ferries would convert to all-electric vessels. Karen responded that environmental concerns are high on BC Ferries’ priorities. The 2022 Clean Futures Plan: (https://www.bcferries.com/web_image/hf0/hce/8910527397918.pdf) was referenced, intent upon reducing BC Ferries’ emissions by approximately 100,000 tonnes of CO2e by 2030.
We learned that BC Ferries is committed to electrifying its vessels, with four hybrid diesel-electric Island Class vessels already in service. A time of great growth, a number of new BC Ferries vessels are proposed for the next few years: https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/bc-ferries-new-vessel-ship-orders). These include a recently-released request for pre-qualifications so that BC Ferries can create a short list of shipyards to build four more Island Class ships.
When another participant asked about better-support for cyclists, we were reminded that this support must include amenities in terminals and on vessels as well as safe entrance and exit. Due to fire danger, vessels will have neither electric car nor bike changing capabilities. But, e-bike charging facilities at terminals are definite possibilities. (Electric car changing is a bit more complicated and will likely have to be separated from parking and holding areas.)
Karen and Emma are well aware of cyclists’ request for dedicated space for their bikes on vessels and envision car deck bike facilities on vessels serving the major routes by the end of the 2020s.
Getting cyclists (and pedestrians) on board safely is a complex issue, significantly complicated by the large number of waiting vehicles clogging the roads leading to the Fulford and Vesuvius terminals. Currently, a study is being completed by Urban Systems: https://urbansystems.ca/), under the direction of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI), that analyzes cycling safety issues on Salt Spring’s major roads, with an emphasis on our three ferry terminals. (Estimates are that this study will be available by the end of 2022.)
As soon as that report has been released, Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) Chair, Harold Swerenga will convene a Working Group to focus on the clear safety issues on Fulford Hill. It is expected that this Working Group will include members of the FAC, CRD (Transportation Commission and, eventually the LCC), MoTI, and, possibly even the Fulford Water District. Emma and Karen expressed their interest in being included in this Working Group. When asked whether the very-helpful traffic control offered by the BC ferries personnel on Fulford Hill during peak times would continue, Emma assured us that there are no plans to cease this service.
A participant spoke of her concerns for the needs of walk-ons. She noted that passengers waiting at both the Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen Terminals had to wait for buses for long periods outside, often in miserable conditions. She asked why BC Ferries could not construct protection for these bus riders. This request was noted by both Emma and Karen as a possibility to be explored and factored into terminal improvement plans.
This participant had a number of complaints about the lack of coordination between BC Ferries and BC Transit, too often resulting in one of our local buses leaving the terminal (presumably virtually empty) before the ferry had docked. Many have experienced the distress of watching the bus pull away while the ferry was still docking, leaving too many - unwilling to wait two hours for the next bus - with few options other than hitchhiking or trying to call a taxi. While this may seem like a simple BC Transit scheduling issue, it was recognized that the scheduling of our local buses is tied to on time ferry schedules and is unable to be adjusted when a ferry is delayed.
Karen and Emma are well aware of these scheduling frustrations, and Emma is now meeting with BC Transit every month to find solutions. (Note: As schedule coordination between BC Ferries and our local buses is a major concern for CRD Transportation Commissioners, efforts will be made to make sure that our BC Transit contact is involved - -or at least informed - of these meetings.)
While many have long-assumed that BC Ferries is mainly concerned about supporting vehicular traffic, its financial foundation, Karen assured us that BC Ferries is committed to also prioritizing service for pedestrians and cyclists. Some ideas were proposed to encourage folks to leave their cars at home. One participant asked about a bus that took passengers from Ganges to Sidney - and maybe even Victoria - several times every day. She maintained that this service would encourage many to leave their cars at home.
A former local transit operator pointed out the cost implications of such a service, not limited to the cost of taking the bus on the ferry as well as drivers’ time on the crossing. He though, tossed out another option: Why not charge all vehicles an extra $1 per crossing? He believes that few would care. . . and this one dollar would add up to a rather sizable amount of money for Salt Spring each year to fund . . .free bus service? . . . cycling and pedestrian infrastructure? . . . or?
While options of this magnitude could not be fully-explored at this ASK Salt Spring gathering, the ideas certainly inspired some. And, according to Karen, while fare increases are complicated, creative solutions such as a one dollar surcharge designated for Salt Spring, could certainly be explored.
Among the concerns of participants were:
Why do Dangerous-Cargo Only Vesuvius/Crofton crossings have to be in the middle of the day? (According to Karen, BC Ferries is seriously looking at this.)
Why can’t the 6:15 a.m. Fulford ferry leave earlier to connect with the 7:00 Vancouver-bound ferry? (Overtime issues complicate an earlier departure.)
Does BC Ferries talk to its crews about scheduling issues (especially on the new two-ferry Gabriola run) as they are its most-informed critics. (BC Ferries Management works closely with the crew to access this information.)
Have staffing issues been addressed to avoid the disruptive sailing cancellations of last summer? (BC Ferries is committed to do better concerning staffing issues, and it is putting a huge effort - in collaboration with the union - to more effectively recruit, train, and retain.)
As our time together was drawing to a close, participants acknowledged the fine job BC Ferries is doing despite challenges. With a commitment to come back to ASK Salt Spring, folks gave Emma and Karen an enthusiastic round of applause. All seemed happy to be able to have a rich, respectful face-to-face conversation with those in the position to make major improvements to our so-important ferry services. (Thank-you Karen and Emma!)
Please join us at our NEW LOCATION - the *Lobby of the Middle School on Friday, December2, to welcome MLA Adam Olsen.
Please note: If the snow does not abate, we may have to cancel.
If you are in doubt, please check asksaltspring.com Thursday, December 1 for current information. (If we must cancel, this information will also be in the Events section of the Exchange and the on-line Driftwood.
Hope to see you Friday, December 2!
*From Rainbow Road, turn right just after the School Board building and drive up the hill where you can park. (If the parking lot is full, you may have to park lower on the hill near Mahon Hall. You can also park on Park Drive.)
Enter the building on the left as you look at it, and you will see the Lobby to the right as soon as you enter.
See you Friday, December 2, 11-1, in the Middle School Lobby to welcome Adam!
What would you like to ask Adam?
What do you hope to accomplish in 2023?
Are there particular bills that we should be watching?
Are you pleased with Premier Eby’s recent announcements?
Do you think the requested Islands Trust Act review will be approved?
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the province?
How can you see addressing them?
And. . . ?
Please join us this Friday, December 2 for a rich conversation with Adam. Remember: the Middle School Lobby!
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Country Grocer through Save-a-Tape and Gift Cards, Island Savings’ Simple Generosity grant, and Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA).
A heartfelt Thank-You!