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BC Ferries cut service without asking permission

British Columbia Ferry Services Inc. announced yesterday it is reducing service on the major routes between Vancouver Island and the mainland. The company has not, however, asked the B.C. Ferry Commissioner for permission to do so.

When the provincial government privatized the ferry company in 2003, it made a contract between the company and the province that requires BC Ferries to gain the commissioner's approval before cutting service. As the commissioner's website puts it, “BC Ferries cannot . . . cut back service on a route without the Commission’s permission.”

Deputy Commissioner Sheldon Stoilen confirmed the commission has not ruled on BC Ferries' service reduction, but added it does not need to. Stoilen, by the way, has a brother, Wayne Stoilen who sits on BC Ferries' board.

The cuts are mainly to off-peak and early morning sailings on the major routes and are about one percent of the service. The company is also substituting older, smaller ferries at times when traffic does not justify using a larger ship.

The contract sets out service levels over a full year, Stoilen said. The company had extra sailings over the summer that will balance the fall and winter reductions. “They will still meet their obligations,” he said. “When you average it over the year, they feel quite comfortable they're meeting their obligations under the service contract.”

The question then for transportation and infrastructure minister Kevin Falcon is whether the government has done enough to protect the ferry service for people travelling all year, not just in the tourist season. Tuesday morning he was at the demolition of the Coquihalla toll booths and could not be reached.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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