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What’s behind the idea of possibly axing BC Ferries Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route?

WATCH ABOVE: Mike Corrigan speaks to Sophie and Steve on the Morning News.

VANCOUVER – The president and CEO of BC Ferries says there are a number of factors to consider when looking at the possibility of scrapping the Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay route.

“We’ve got a $3.1 billion, that’s a ‘B’, billion dollar capital program over the next 12 years that we need to start implementing in order to rebuild the ships and the terminals and do all the things we need to do to provide the good service across the ferry system,” says Mike Corrigan.

“And of that $3.1 billion, there’s $1.1 billion dollars worth that’s required just for the major routes and if you drive it down a little further you quickly realize that the biggest non-ship expenditure is Horseshoe Bay, where we have to spend up to $200 million at Horseshoe Bay rebuilding that terminal and making it more efficient in the future.”

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“There’s also the driver that the fact of the matter is, for the two Nanaimo runs together carry the same amount of traffic as the single Victoria to Vancouver route, even though in the winter the Nanaimo routes have twice as many vessels as the Victoria run.”

“And then finally, we’ve seen the completion of the South Fraser Perimeter Road, which is changing the way people travel from the mainland to the island.”

If the route was scrapped, ferry traffic from mid and Vancouver Island would go through the Duke Point-Tsawwassen route. The Horseshoe Bay terminal would still exist, but only to serve Bowen Island and the Sunshine Coast.

When the idea was announced on Tuesday, many immediately reacted very negatively, saying this is not the way to improve service between Vancouver Island and the mainland.

Claire Trevena, a North Island MLA, it is not surprising most people don’t like the idea. “This is as though BC Ferries is suggesting to [Minister Todd Stone] that we just close Highway 1,” she says. “This is what the Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay is, it’s Highway 1.”
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“It’s going to have a huge impact, both on the island the B.C. economy.”

Corrigan says the key point is that there have not been any decisions made yet and there still needs to be a consultation process.

“One option is to maintain the current structure the exact way it is, another option is to shift traffic from Horseshoe Bay to Tsawwassen for certain times of day or certain times of the week or certain times of year or maybe all together,” says Corrigan. “We could also look at consolidating the two Nanaimo terminals on the island side for certain times of the week or certain times of year as well, or maybe entirely.”

“We’ve got to look at passenger-only ferry service to augment some of the other decisions we make and there may be other options that are identified in the consultation.”

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“This is just the beginning.”

Trevena says it is not public consultation that is needed but “real hard figures.”

“It isn’t a stand-alone entity,” she says. “It is this quasi-private organization that was set up by the BC Liberal Government when we really have to look at BC Ferries as part of our infrastructure. It’s as important as any bridge or any highway in our province, particularly the Highway 1 route, which is the Departure Bay-Horseshoe Bay route.”

Corrigan says this is all about trying to maintain service and keep the fares as low as possible. “We have to have a ferry system that’s viable over the long term,” he adds.

He says the last time any significant work was done at Horseshoe Bay was in the late 90s. Now the transfer deck needs to be replaced and in order to make it more efficient they need to be able to unload more than one vessel at a time.

“If we’re going to provide service out of there to the level that we’re doing today and meet peoples’ expectations, and keep fares down we’re going to have to look at the way we do business going forward,” says Corrigan.