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Dubious ferry figures used for BC government consult, says union president

The British Columbia government's public consultation on coastal ferry service is based on inaccurate data that will lead to uninformed decision making, said Chris Abbott, the president of the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers' Union.

The province is in the middle of a $700,000 public consultation that Transportation Minister Mary Polak announced Oct. 29 is aimed at finding $26 million in cuts to ferry service. Discussion material for the consultation focusses on capacity utilization and Polak has suggested many routes or sailings are underused.

"People could be making decisions based on incorrect information," Abbott said in an interview. "There too many questions [to be] presenting this information as verbatim and asking people to make an informed decision."

For example, the vessel Abbott used to work on is the Howe Sound Queen which serves the run between Vesuvius Bay on Salt Spring Island and Crofton on Vancouver Island. Officially, it has room for 70 of what the publicly-owned company calls "automobile equivalent units." However, the ship's vessel specific manual puts the AEQ significantly lower, at 55.

That means that while the government says 36.1 percent of the vessel's capacity was used in 2011, the BCFMWU's calculations show the figure should be 45.9 percent.

"A lot of these AEQs came up a long time ago," said Abbott. Over the years on many vessels space has been taken to make room for things like fire lanes and access for people with disabilities, he said. "There are a lot of areas on ships you just can't park cars anymore, and I don't think they've been accounted for properly."

A ministry spokesperson took questions but didn't have an immediate response, saying the person with the answers was in transit to attend consultations.

The process appears aimed at convincing the public service cuts should be accepted, said Abbott. "It's not so much a consultation process as the selling of an inevitability."

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

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