BC Ferries’ engagement with ferry-reliant communities has ‘deteriorated’: commission

CHEK
File photo.

A new report from the British Columbia Ferry Commission is reiterating concerns from ferry advisory committees (FACs), saying BC Ferries’ engagement with communities has “deteriorated” after tensions ran high at a meeting last September.

“People expressed their concerns, and it’s well reflected in that report,” said Diana Mumford, chair of the Southern Sunshine Coast committee.

The infamous meeting between the FACs and BC Ferries was held on Sept. 20, 2023, in Gibsons, where one local in attendance uttered threats involving the use of a gun.

At the time, the Coastal Renaissance was going out of service, and Mumford says people were worried that other routes could suffer from less service as a result.

“So people were really anxious, they were angry. They wanted answers. I think that came through at the meeting,” said Mumford in an interview.

READ PREVIOUS: Abuse, weapons threats to BC Ferries staff put public meetings on hold

But after the incident, BC Ferries cited security concerns and hit pause on upcoming in-person meetings between the company and FACs.

“BC Ferries, after that, then cancelled all in-person FAC meetings, and then they eventually extended it to virtual as well. We were allowed to talk to each other as FAC members, but we weren’t allowed to have meetings,” said Mumford.

“They just started up on May 21. We went seven months with a lot of concerns.”

According to Mumford, all those months went by with BC Ferries neglecting to engage with the FACs, which share information between their respective communities and the ferry company.

There are 13 volunteer-based advisory committees in total, and BC Ferries announced last month that virtual FAC meetings would take place in May, followed by in-person community meetings throughout June and July.

“There are areas that we all share a common interest, and I think part of it is the performance, the reliability of the ferries and the communication system that we get from BC Ferries to passengers and ferry users is inconsistent and not always reliable,” Mumford told CHEK News.

“It’s frustrating because you’re sitting there, there’s no ship. What does that mean?” she said.

‘Quite sad’

In the new report, the ferry commission says that while BC Ferries has made progress in Indigenous relations, engagement with ferry-dependent communities has gone south.

“I think it was a very accurate statement,” said Mumford.

The commission added in its report that “the Commissioners have heard from the FAC Chairs that there were high levels of frustration among FAC members due to the lack of communication from the Corporation following the cessation of in-person meetings in September.

“In addition, FAC members felt that they were not consulted nor were they involved in the development of new security measures in their communities.”

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Mumford is hoping the FACs can rebuild their relationship with BC Ferries because she finds ferry terminals keep getting busier and busier.

“There’s a lot of backups, a lot of overloads. On-time performance is quite sad, and it continues to be. It doesn’t seem to be improving,” she said.

“They’re telling us there will be new ferries, we hope, coming into the system in 2029. Well, this is 2024, so we’ve got a five-year wait, and the traffic has significantly increased and our service has not since about 2003.

“The economic prosperity relies on the ferries.”

The commission noted in its report that BC Ferries is in the process of restarting the engagement with the FACs, adding, “the Commissioners encourage BC Ferries to communicate the goals and expectations around the engagement in a timely, open and transparent manner.”

As listed in its report, the commission is encouraging the ferry company to achieve these recommendations in fiscal 2025:

  1. Demonstrate to the commissioners the steps the corporation intends to take to make customers feel respected, heard and valued, and that those steps were developed in consultation with the communities, FACs, First Nations and other stakeholders;
  2. Demonstrate to the commissioners how the corporation intends to monitor whether the steps taken lead to an enhanced public engagement process;
  3. Clearly define and communicate what role the FACs will have in the enhanced vision of BC Ferries’ public engagement;
  4. And ensure that all online communication on the Community Pages is relevant, comprehensive and timely.

BC Ferries is gearing up for summer and says it’s adding more sailings as the busy season gets underway. Earlier this month, the company laid out a road map for smoother sailing, making changes it hopes will reduce the number of cancelled sailings and improve the reliability of its fleet.

“We’re ready,” said Jeff Groot, BC Ferries’ executive director of communications at a May 15 press conference.

“You’ll see in reliability, we’ve tightened our refit schedule for how we’re getting through our scheduled maintenance, making sure that all of our ships are ready and in service by early June,” he said.

Reviewing the report

BC Ferries tells CHEK News it received the report and is reviewing it.

“We take this feedback seriously and are committed to strengthening our relationships with the communities that depend on our service,” the company said Sunday.

“As you may already be aware, we have started engaging in-person once again. Over the next several months, BC Ferries will improve engagement with ferry-dependent communities by working closely with them to review and prioritize feedback.”

The ferry company says it’s also been “actively engaging with communities over the past month on various projects happening in their areas,” nothing that upcoming FAC meetings, community workshops and community prioritization panels aim to be “responsive and transparent.”

Mumford highlights transparency. In her experience, if ferry users don’t know what’s happening with the ferries, they think something “devious” is going on.

“It’s building that relationship within our communities with BC Ferries, and then being able to work together to make this the best ferry service possible. That’s the bottom line for all of us,” she added.

“We want to be able to go between point A and point B and not be frustrated.”

Find the report here.

Ethan Morneau

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