BC Ferries is cutting sailings on the Langdale-Horseshoe Bay route to just six round-trips per day to “protect the health and safety of communities and ferry workers, ensure the resiliency of the coastal ferry service, and better match ferry service to current demand.”
The service reduction will kick in Saturday, April 4 and last for the next 60 days, according to a release from BC Ferries. “During this time, BC Ferries will monitor service levels in conjunction with the province to ensure essential service levels are maintained and to determine when services should resume to normal levels,” the release said.
Other routes serving the Sunshine Coast, Powell River and Texada Island are not being cut at this time. “Maintaining the delivery of essential goods and services and ensuring that health care and other essential workers can continue to use the ferry to commute to work will be a priority,” the company said.
Overall capacity across the ferry system is being reduced to half of what it would normally be at this time of year, including a complete suspension of sailings between Horseshoe Bay and Nanaimo.
Service to the mid-Island will now consist of four round-trips per day between Tsawwassen and Duke Point, as well as four “cargo only” round trips on that run.
Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay is also being reduced to four round trips a day and changes are planned on the Tsawwassen-Southern Gulf Islands and Swartz Bay-Southern Gulf Islands routes, but the details are still being finalized.
The cuts on the Langdale-Horseshoe Bay route will drop the service below the minimum outlined in Coastal Ferry Services Contract, which calls for at least seven round trips per weekday and six on Sundays. The usual schedule at this time of year has eight round-trip sailings.
The Coastal Ferry Services Contract with the province has been amended to permit these service reductions.
When the province first declared a state of emergency, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth included the power to “direct passenger and car ferry operators, in consultation with the province, [to] provide minimum service levels and priority access for residents, and essential goods and workers.”
BC Ferries president Mark Collins said the changes will allow for those essential service levels. “We will continue to transport the goods communities rely on, and we will get people to where they need to go,” Collins said.
Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons, who said last month he’d been in touch with the Ministry of Transportation about ensuring proper service levels to meet local needs, told Coast Reporter after the announcement that it was obvious BC Ferries and the province would have to come to some sort of agreement on cuts and it seems to have been “thought through very carefully.”
“It’s a challenging time, but I think these are appropriate, manageable changes that won’t have a serious impact on the travel of goods and services and people.”
Collins said the service level reductions will result in temporary layoffs for “hundreds of dedicated and loyal employees,” but added: “Our goal is to keep the temporary layoffs to as short as possible. We need all these skilled people back as soon as possible to help restore ferry services when traffic returns.”
“My expectation is the workers will be looked after and the workers will be called back as soon as they are needed,” Simons said.
As well as a decline in ridership of around 70 per cent since people were told to travel only when absolutely necessary, BC Ferries has also seen a sharp drop in fare revenue.
The global ferry industry group Interferry, which includes BC Ferries, has called for financial aid from governments around the world “to offset unsustainable losses incurred – expected to be in the billions of dollars – while maintaining lifeline services during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Mike Corrigan, the former president of BC Ferries and now CEO of Interferry, said: “These companies continue to provide lifeline service, recognizing they are incurring mounting financial losses that are unsustainable over the longer term.”
Interferry is asking for direct financial support, interest-free loans, relief from payroll and other taxes and relief from port fees where applicable.
The new Langdale-Horseshoe Bay schedule, as of April 4, will be:
• 6:20 a.m.
• 8:40 a.m.
• 10:50 a.m.
• 3:15 p.m.
• 5:25 p.m.
• 7:40 a.m.
Leaving Horseshoe Bay:
• 7:30 a.m.
• 9:45 a.m.
• 11:55 a.m.
• 4:20 p.m.
• 6:35 p.m.
• 8:34 p.m.
– With files from Victoria Times Colonist