BC Ferries has already made some changes to sailing times on the Langdale-Horsehoe Bay route as it implements measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 and a possible reduction in the number of sailings could be on the horizon.
"At some point in the future [BC Ferries] may have a discussion about reduction of service," Sechelt Mayor Darnelda Siegers said in her March 31 community update. "We want to remind the community that the ferry is an essential service for us. They bring supplies back and forth for our hospital, our grocery stores and other service providers as well as essential workers for our hospital."
Siegers also mentioned the many Coasters who need to go back and forth to the Lower Mainland for medical treatment.
"All of this would have to be taken into account should a conversation for service reduction be entertained."
BC Ferries president and CEO Mark Collins told the Victoria Times Colonist on March 27 that conversation is already underway and the ferry company is negotiating new reduced essential service levels with the province.
Collins also said an agreement was expected sometime this week.
BC Ferries has seen traffic drop by an unprecedented 70 per cent, and its also seen a larger than usual number of workers off sick, including at least one who has tested positive for COVID-19.
"We are going to go below winter levels in some areas," Collins predicted. "The government is taking a route-by-route interest in it. Every route will be judged on its merits."
"There will need to be adjustments in capacity to bring it down to essential levels. That will help with the cost situation a bit."
The latest version of the Coastal Ferry Services Contract calls for a minimum of seven round trips per weekday and six on Sundays on the Langdale-Horsehoe Bay route during the off peak season. The current schedule has eight round-trip sailings.
When the province first declared a state of emergency, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth included the power to "direct passenger and car ferry operators, in consultation with the province, [to] provide minimum service levels and priority access for residents, and essential goods and workers."
Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons said he's been in touch with the Ministry of Transportation to emphasize the need to make sure service levels still allow for commuters to get to jobs on the Lower Mainland if they're not working from home, families to stay connected and regular deliveries of supplies, including medicine and food.
BC Ferries has also seen a sharp drop in fare revenue as ridership numbers fall because of essential travel only, and the global ferry industry group Interferry is now calling for financial aid from governments around the world "to offset unsustainable losses incurred–expected to be in the billions of dollars – while maintaining lifeline services during the COVID-19 pandemic."
Mike Corrigan, the former president of BC Ferries and now CEO of Interferry, said: "These companies continue to provide lifeline service, recognizing they are incurring mounting financial losses that are unsustainable over the longer term."
Interferry is asking for direct financial support, interest-free loans, relief from payroll and other taxes and relief from port fees where applicable.
"Interferry would also like to recognize the extraordinary efforts and sacrifices that ferry crews across the globe are making to ensure the uninterrupted delivery of vital goods," Corrigan added. "With families at home to worry about, and an end to the COVID-19 crisis still unknown, ferry crews are showing up for work each day to ensure that ships sail and goods get delivered."
Collins made a similar statement recently on BC Ferries' YouTube channel. "Our employees have never taken their jobs so seriously as they do now," he said. "They know you depend on their loyalty, their courage and their dedication, and they won't let you down."
– With files from Victoria Times Colonist and Glacier Media
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