Changes to Sunshine Coast route will go ahead despite criticism, says BC Ferries
A trial to test major changes to the Horseshoe Bay-Langdale route is set to begin in June
UPDATE, April 30, 2021: BC Ferries has announced it will not proceed with the trial, saying in a release that it had become a divisive issue, which was not the intent of the proposed project.
A trial to test major changes to BC Ferries' route from the Lower Mainland to the Sunshine Coast will go ahead, despite a petition gathering thousands of online signatures that criticizes the proposed changes, according the company's CEO.
The details of the trial were announced last week, and quickly led to the creation of a petition, which among other things, suggests the plan "will cause Sunshine Coast residents unnecessary stress, undue hardship and will negatively affect thousands of Sunshine Coast residents' lives."
Among the changes, BC Ferries plans to add vehicle tolls to the Langdale side, which was previously free, increase reservable vessel space to 95 per cent, and reduce fees on less popular sailings. The trial is set to begin in June.
"We believe it's really important to test these concepts," said Mark Collins, CEO of BC Ferries. "Let's try all these ideas, and that's all this is, really testing these ideas. It's not intended to be a permanent solution."
Collins said the company has repeatedly heard from residents on the Sunshine Coast that the current service on the route, known as Route 3, hasn't been working.
He said a public consultation process last fall confirmed complaints that there's insufficient capacity, not enough sailings, too many overloads and sailing waits, and not enough certainty for travellers.
Despite the common complaints, Collins said on average sailings are only at 66 per cent capacity.
'Trying to do something different'
BC Ferries sought the endorsement of the trial plan from the Sunshine Coast Regional District, the Town of Gibsons, and the District of Sechelt, which it received.
"Doing a trial of some kind, trying to do something different certainly felt palatable for myself and others," said Lori Pratt, chair of the Sunshine Coast Regional District. "Our route can be really problematic for all of us travelling."
Pratt said the 95 per cent reservable space issue was brought up by the company, and received some pushback from the district. It's at the core of the complaints expressed in the online petition, which stresses the need for flexibility for Sunshine Coast residents who have to go to Metro Vancouver and could run into delays, potentially missing their booked sailings.
The petition also criticizes the plan to collect fares from drivers on the Langdale side, arguing that vehicles will get backed up and impede traffic in the area.
"I don't agree with all of the details of the trial, but it's worth trying something out that's different that may be able to give us a better service in the long run," said Pratt.
According to Collins, anyone who may miss their reserved sailing can call or re-book online at no extra cost. He said BC Ferries is proposing that people who completely fail to show up for their reserved sailings will lose their fare, because that's space that would be wasted, leaving other travellers behind on the dock.
The petition expresses skepticism that the trial is only temporary, arguing that the cost of extra infrastructure like point-of-sale equipment suggests the plan will be permanent — an idea Collins rejects.
"It's intended to produce information that we can take away, learn from, go back to the community, and with the community try to design a long-term solution," he said.
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