The B.C. government’s $5.8 million subsidy increase for B.C. Ferries to restore low-volume sailings that were cut in 2014 means most of the extra sailings will be leaving the dock starting April 1, Transportation Minister Claire Trevena says.
The 2,700 sailings per year are added to minor routes from the Southern Gulf Islands up to Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii by increasing the $180 million annual provincial subsidy to B.C. Ferries to cover the costs.
Additional sailings from Nanaimo Harbour to Gabriola Island are to be increased in early April after a community survey, B.C. Ferries said in a statement Thursday. The Alliford Bay-Skidegate route between Haida Gwaii islands requires additional staff to go from 12-hour operation to 16 hours, and will begin once recruiting and relocating staff is complete.
When former transportation minister Todd Stone implemented the reductions in April 2014, he said they were necessary to make the ferry service viable. Stone cited the Monday night sailing between Alliford Bay and Skidegate that had an average load of one passenger and one vehicle.
The Inside Passage route between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert, the longest and most heavily subsidized B.C. Ferries route, needs vessel refit and staff recruitment to add more service at the start of the summer, B.C. Ferries said it is investigating the feasibility of extending the summer schedule into the fall of this year, with more service to be added next year.
The 2013 service review reported the vehicle usage of each affected sailing. For Campbell River to Quadra Island, where Trevena lives, the 8 p.m. ferry was running at less than five per cent capacity seven days a week.
Additional sailings are to begin April 1 on the following routes and users should check B.C. Ferries’ schedule to find adjusted sailing times:
• Earls Cove-Saltery Bay
• Horseshoe Bay-Bowen Island
• Port Hardy-Mid-Coast-Prince Rupert
• Powell River-Texada Island
• Campbell River-Quadra Island
• Quadra Island-Cortes Island
Transport Canada rules require that B.C. Ferries vessels be fully staffed regardless of passenger load so that a ferry at full capacity can be evacuated in case of emergency.
The 2014 reductions also included the elimination of free senior fares from Monday to Thursday across the B.C. Ferries fleet, which have since been restored by the NDP government. The 2014 service review was estimated to save more than $18 million per year.