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Ferry consultation needs deeper questions, says advocate

A transportation advocacy group is circulating a list of 100 questions aimed at broadening the British Columbia government's consultation on coastal ferry services.

"Every aspect of the ferry system has to be looked at and the data has to be complete," said Gregg Dow, the president of the BC Coastal Transportation Society. "We just demonstrated how complicated it is. It's a disservice of the provincial government not to bring that into the decision making process."

The provincial government is at the start of a $700,000 consultation process Transportation Minister Mary Polak launched in late October aimed at cutting $26 million from BC Ferries' budget.

Through a request for proposals process to run the consultation, the transportation ministry hired Kirk & Co. Consulting Ltd. in August. Elections BC records show Kirk & Co. has been a regular donor to the BC Liberal Party. The company has given nearly $12,000 to the governing party since 2005, and principal Judy Kirk has also made personal donations to the Liberals.

Materials circulated as part of the consultation process look at the cost of each route, its capacity and how much it is used.

There are many other factors that come into play, including regulations around things like crewing levels, transportation of dangerous goods and weight allowances, said Dow. "What impacts will it have on the economies of these communities? Has the governemnt even looked at that?"

Many of the questions focus on how BC Ferries and the government calculated the capacity that they say is under used. The full list is available on the BCCTS website. Here are 12 of them:

Has the Government/BC Ferries undertaken an evaluation of what constitutes ‘Core Ferry Service’? It appears the Government is prepared to adjust Core Ferry Services downward in response to BC Ferries’ escalating cost overruns. At what point does the Government determine Core Ferry Services will have bottomed out?

Is the Government aware if any of the costs of the new BC Ferries Head Office has been allocated out to the fleet?

Is the Government aware if any of the costs of the BC Ferries Vacation Centre have allocated out to the fleet?

How have the two boards of directors expenses been allocated to the fleet, since 2003?

Did BC Ferries identify that a vessel's license can be met by foot passengers alone, leaving vacant vehicle capacity?

When BC Ferries replaces vessels on Route 1, exchanging a Spirit Class Vessel with a Super C, they’ve reduced the capacity for those sailings. Did the Province review and account for the differences in capacity between vessels?

Do BC Ferries’ policies around on time performance -- specifically in how it determines how the vessels are to be loaded, cut-off times, and the handling of traffic in the terminals -- ultimately defeat its ability to meet maximum capacity utilization targets?

Has the Government considered reductions to Management Bonus Plans to reduce drain on the fare and subsidy revenue at BCFS and thus protect farepayers and taxpayers interests?

How does BC Ferries’ Reservations policy affect capacity? Has the Government/BC Ferries determined if it is a deterrent to travel for some potential passengers?

Has the Government evaluated what impact the loss of Tourism BC for three years had on ridership at BC Ferries?

A large percentage of the loss posted to each route comprises the cost of central management, the cost of ship refits and terminal upgrades, and the cost of financing and amortization of BCF's $1.4 billion dollar debt. In what way will deep cuts to service reduce these expenses?

In 2002, the Government promised improved service and predictable fares. The current consultation process the Government is undertaking demonstrates the business model isn’t working. At what point does the government go back to the legislation and fix it?

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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