British Columbia

BC Ferries cuts killing business, say Coast-Chilcotin tourism companies

Tourism operators in the Coast-Chilcotin region say ferry service cuts on a circle tour route have hurt business dramatically, but the provincial minister responsible for BC Ferries says they're overstating the impact.
Tweedsmuir Park Lodge owner Beat Steiner says this year's changes in BC Ferries service to Bella Coola is already having a noticeable, negative impact on tourism 2:47

The latest battle over cuts to BC Ferries services has some tourism operators on the attack and the government defending its attempts to rein in the cost of ferry service.

The West Chilcotin Tourism Association says business is way down and it's blaming the drop on cutbacks in ferry service.

The MV Nimpkish (foreground) has replaced a larger ferry linking Bella Bella to Bella Coola on the Central Coast. The government says the vessel it replaced was only running at 25 to 30 per cent capacity. (BC Ferries)

It issued a report claiming there has been am estimated 46 per cent decline in the number of passengers taking the ferry to connect between Port Hardy, on Vancouver Island, and Bella Coola, on the Central Coast.

The group's president says tourism businesses depended on traffic along a circle route known as the Discovery Coast Circle Tour, where travellers could drive up Vancouver Island then take a ferry to the Central Coast and drive back down to the Lower Mainland area, boosting tourism all along the way.

The association says fewer visitors are completing the link between Bella Bella, where the larger ferry from Port Hardy still stops, and Bella Coola, which is now serviced by the smaller 16-vehicle barge-like vessel MV Nimpkish — and not always with a same-day connection.

The association said that over 17 per cent of the tourism businesses that were surveyed for the report indicated that they were likely or possibly going to be forced to foreclose due to the reduced ferry service in the region.

But B.C.'s transportation minister Todd Stone says the circle tour option for tourists is still very much intact

Costly car carrier

On Monday, Stone said service was reduced because the route had a utilization rate of only 25 to 30 per cent, which meant BC Ferries was subsidizing each vehicle on the ferry to the tune of $2,500, adding up to a loss of $7 million per year.

In addition, BC Ferries was looking at having to spend an additional $100 million to replace the aging ferry that had been servicing the route.

"We don't believe it makes a lot of sense when we're trying to drive down the cost of fares across the system broadly to invest 100 million dollars in a new vessel on this particular route," Stone said.

Stone said the government is working with tourism operators in the area on a number of initiatives to increase business.

 

With files from the CBC's Kirk Williams

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