Province extends contracts for south coast ferry service after bidding process fails

It's a serious setback for efforts to overhaul ferry services on the south coast of Newfoundland.

Newfoundland and Labrador transportation department says all bids were non-compliant

The Marine Coaster III, a barge-like catamaran, served the Gaultois-McCallum ferry run for months in 2017. On many crossings, the only people on board were the four crew. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Efforts to overhaul ferry services on the south coast of Newfoundland have suffered a serious setback, with the transportation department announcing Tuesday that a request for proposals has been cancelled.

A spokesperson with the Department of Transportation and Works confirmed that all bids were "non-compliant" and "unable to provide service on the start date."

The department plans to re-start the process, and the current contracts with Puddister Trading Company Ltd. and Norcon Marine Services Ltd. are being extended so there are no interruptions in service.

Original deadlines extended

The province issued a request for proposals (RFP) in mid-November for the provision of ferry services to seven communities on the south coast — La Poile, Francois, Grey River, Gaultois, McCallum, Rencontre East and South East Bight.

The RFP was looking to identify a company "capable of managing and providing passenger and freight services … in an efficient and cost-effective manner."

The Northern Seal, which runs from Bay L'Argent to Rencontre East and Pool's Cove, was the most expensive southern Newfoundland ferry service in 2016-17, with a cost of $2.4 million. (Department of Transportation and Works)

The original deadline for submissions was Jan. 19, with a contract expected to be awarded by Jan. 31, and a new contract to commence on April 1.

But the department extended its deadlines in January, saying bidders had requested more time.

A spokesperson confirmed that communities on the south coast were notified Tuesday that the process had been cancelled.

CBC has asked how many companies submitted bids, and why the bids were deemed non-compliant.

Companies were asked to develop their own service model and "innovative solutions" to serve roughly 720 residents in the seven communities, while providing at least one trip to and from each community each day.

The government made it clear it was looking to save money, with Transportation and Works Minister Steve Crocker referencing the province's fiscal challenges in a Nov. 16, 2017 news release.

The province spent some $8.6 million on south coast ferry services in 2016-17, and the current contracts with Puddister and Norcon were set to expire March 31.

About the Author

Terry Roberts

CBC News

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.