New Island-class vessels coming to the area are part of BC Ferries’ long-term plan. Photo supplied by BC Ferries.

Quadra and Cortes islanders asked about future of ferries

Immediate concerns brought up, though meeting was about long-term plans

Quadra and Cortes islanders got the chance to share their thoughts on the future of the coastal ferries system with local MLA and Transportation Minister Claire Trevena.

Two meetings were held on Feb. 28 and 29, on Cortes and Quadra island. Trevena held the meetings in her capacity as local MLA to find out how those affected by the ferry system think it should be run in the future. They were part of a larger effort by the Ministry of Transportation to develop a vision that will be used to guide the system in future years.

“This exercise is very much future-looking and looking 40-50 years into the future and kind of give people that big picture in how our coastal communities evolve, how should marine highway and our marine transit system evolve,” Trevena said. “Our society’s evolving and we don’t want to be stuck in the system that was created fifty years ago as we move forward into the next fifty years… We need to be forward-thinking and have that discussion.”

Communities on small islands are intrinsically linked to the ferry system for everything from economics to social aspects. Many from Quadra Island commute to Campbell River for work, and took the meeting as a chance to bring up immediate issues with the ferries, as well as to look decades into the future. Quadra is also a transfer island for people who live on Cortes Island. Ferry Advisory Committee chair Michael Lynch said that coordination of ferry and ground transportation is an issue that is present up and down the coast.

“Crossing Quadra is difficult for people who live on Cortes, Crossing Denman is difficult for people who live on Hornby,” he said. “It’s always aided by the fact that most locals pick up hitchhikers on the islands, but that’s not everybody’s preferred way of travelling.”

“There are always people who want to talk about current problems,” Trevena added. “I think that’s really important and we are addressing current problems. I’m working with B.C. Ferries to do that.”

Though Lynch was unable to attend the recent meetings, he has been part of the Ministry of Transportation process.

Coordinating with BC Transit in Campbell River can be difficult. The closest bus stop to the ferry terminal is two blocks, which for people walking with heavy bags can be quite a trek.

Local issues that were brought up in the meetings included green ferries, coordination with ground transit, respecting the needs of commercial traffic as well as seasonal overloads that occur in summer. Lynch said that most of those issues were being addressed, albeit in a longer time frame than some would like.

A terminal development plan is in the works for the Campbell River, which would alleviate some of the issues. BC Ferries plans on bringing hybrid-electric vessels to the local routes by 2022 with the capacity to be converted to fully-electric in the future. The two new ferries will run in tandem, bringing the wait time down from one hour to 30 minutes which would lessen overloads and sailing waits.

“It’s a slow process,” he said. “They just started building ferries for this island that aren’t going to be here for two years. That’s two more summers. At least we’re getting them… There are a lot of changes afoot.”

The results of this community consultation process are to be used to inform BC ferries operations in the future. Trevena said that the Coastal Ferries Act had been set up to establish BC Ferries as a commercial venture, but that the NDP had changed the act to reflect local service needs.

“We’ve had, for 16 years, a ferry system that was really running on commercial interests… Last year we made amendments to that act that replaced the commercial interests with public interests,” Trevena said. “[BC Ferries] have not had a government vision to work with for 16 years. I know that they’re all eager to be having that vision to guide their future development.”

Trevena will be holding meetings in Sointula, Port Hardy and Alert Bay before the end of March. A survey is also available online, for those who cannot attend meetings. The survey closes March 20.

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