The Baynes Sound Connector leaves Denman Island en route to Buckley Bay. Record file photo

Extra funding for routes for small island communities

Funding will enable ‘pilot’ routes to continue from September through March 2021

Smaller communities such as Denman Island can expect ferry service to remain above the mandated levels beyond the summer.

A pilot program has been in place over the summer to add sailings beyond the level as laid out in the BC Ferries contract, though small island communities such as Denman had concerns over what will happen once the summer is over.

In June, the School District 71 board contacted the ferry service and the Province following its last regular meeting of the 2019-2o20 school year about cuts to service levels to places like Denman Island. Members of the local advisory council had also resigned in response to reductions in service to the smaller islands.

RELATED STORY: Comox Valley school board wants consultation before ferry cuts

Both BC Ferries and the provincial government sent the school district board letters over the summer acknowledging the situation. In July, BC Ferries vice-president for strategy and community engagement Brian Anderson wrote about service changes for the Comox Valley, saying he understands the role ferries play for students taking part in field trips or extra-curricular activities and encouraged the school board to keep the local advisory committee apprised of community needs.

On Aug. 13, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena wrote to the board about the negative impact that COVID-19 has had on ferry service finances, adding BC Ferries had been planning to reduce some sailings beyond the minimum levels as spelled out in the contract with the Province.

“These sailings were added to schedules on some minor routes as pilots based on the travel demand prior to the onset of the pandemic,” she wrote.

However, she added that through an agreement with BC Ferries, schedules for minor routes will remain in place through the summer months.

A BC Ferries spokesperson has since clarified that the Province had provided funds for the above-contract sailings in the summer, but that BC Ferries will fund the sailings for the fall. An Aug. 19 news release confirms BC Ferries will add 769 above-contract sailings on its minor and northern routes, with the new schedule to match that of pre-pandemic service levels. These sailings will be in effect from Sept. 8 through March 31, 2021.

BC Ferries also acknowledged ferry traffic is about 20 per cent lower than at the same time last year because more people are staying close to home over the summer. However, it did note the role communities have played in letting BC Ferries understand their needs.

“We appreciate our ongoing engagement with the Ferry Advisory Committees to bring community concerns forward so we can resolve them together,” president and CEO of BC Ferries Mark Collins said in the news release. “With traffic returning and local communities in need of frequent and reliable service, we know the addition of 769 sailings above what our contract requires will be welcomed by residents and coastal communities alike.”

Earlier in August, the Province and the federal government announced a matching funds agreement to help BC Ferries restore pre-pandemic service levels.

RELATED STORY: Feds offer ‘life preserver’ funds to BC Ferries as pandemic sinks revenue

On Aug. 20, BC Ferries released quarterly financial results for the period ending June 30, which showed net losses of $62 million compared with net earnings of $12.2 million for the same quarter in 2019.



mike.chouinard@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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