Communities should work to boost ridership

Christopher J. Fletcher says communities need to do more to boost ferry ridership.

Dear editor,

My mother Patricia Mckim-Fletcher was a major component in the development of the run to Bella Coola and was a member of the Board of Directors at BC Ferries.

She is no longer able to speak for herself but I know she would not be standing by and letting this happen. She would agree with me that the tourism side of the route has been mismanaged by the communities served which has caused a take-only relationship on behalf of those areas. Also she would agree with me that the amount of runs currently in place is not feasible based on ridership and that it was only a matter of time before BC Ferries cut or cancelled service. If the communities along the route want to rely on a ferry for tourism then they should work to increase ridership.

I am determined to see her vision for a ferry to Bella Coola continue and with that said I would like to provide a means of keeping the service that will attract visitors instead of drain money from the corporation in order to accommodate them.

I am a resident of the Bella Coola Valley and I can see the dependence of the community on the monies raised from tourism directly associated with the ferry. I have also recently been a passenger of the service and realized the money pit this run to Bella Coola must cost the corporation. I am in favor of a change in service but not a removal of the route.

1. Change from 3 runs a week to 1. People already plan their trip based on the runs of the ferry and nothing will change.

2.  A smaller ferry that serves the Discovery Coast Passage. This ferry would shuttle passengers amongst the communities and connects riders with a larger ferry that stops over at Bella Bella.

3. Providing 2 runs per week on a smaller vessel that services Bella Bella, Ocean Falls, Shearwater, Klemtu, and Bella Coola.

I rode the ferry from Port Hardy home to Bella Coola in 2009 and at that time there was a shuttle that serviced the ferry for the Discovery Coast route but on my 2013 voyage it had be cancelled. This cancellation increased my expenses $30 for the cab ride as opposed to the $5 it would have cost riding the shuttle. Creating a larger volume of passengers by only operating one sailing per week would allow for that local job opportunity to open up again.

BC Ferries benefits the communities along the Discovery Coast Route by providing tourists access and these communities rely on the revenue generated by the run. In my opinion the issue is that this is a ferry and not a voyage; there are amenities and it is advertised as a voyage through the coast but it is built on a ferry shuttle platform and I think that this is what is causing the run to fail. There is a niche that is offered on the ferry for representatives of the communities served by the ferry to come aboard free of charge and act as an ambassador to their homes. When I spoke with the Chief Steward while aboard the ferry on 2013 she informed me that no representative had rode along since 2010 and that she had not been in contact with community tourism representatives in some time. This is a loss and an error and I would like to see more from the communities along the Discovery Coast Route to help themselves, the relationship of BC Ferries and the communities needs to be equal and they need to work together to support each other. If it is true that there has been no interest from tourism groups to support the ferries then it is a shame to think they did not realize that B.C Ferries does not work for them and that they must work together. Both times I rode the ferry from Port Hardy to Bella Coola the entire coast was missed as passage took place at night. I understand that a different ferry could be taken to take advantage of this but the experience is one of a kind and should be exposed. I also understand that Bella Coola tourism has done little to provide a healthy ridership and failure to take advantage of free passage in order to boost tourism has not been taken advantage of. I know that connecting the communities at daylight would only would increase interest in the voyage?

I think BC Ferries should look at Bella Coola as a model for the future of ferry traffic and provide on-demand, efficient ferry service between coastal communities. The small ferry that could service a route to Bella Coola could be operated from May to September but make smaller, more efficient runs that fill space appropriately. The last trip taken on the ferry from Port Hardy to Bella Coola only five people exited and 10 boarded, this is obviously one of the major reasons for considering a cutback in service but by making it a community connector that can be used by tourists for transport the ferry will succeed and flourish.

I hope to see the service continue.

 

 

Christopher J. Fletcher

Vancouver

 

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