Connecting Coastal Communities: The Need for Change
Imagine an early summer morning on Malcolm Island, where the sun bathes the landscape in a warm glow, accompanied by a gentle breeze from the Queen Charlotte Strait. The awe-inspiring peaks of the Broughton Archipelago stretch across the horizon. While this picturesque community feels like a slice of heaven on Earth, its existence today relies heavily on the BC Ferries system. However, recent challenges and frustrations have reignited discussions about the potential benefits of bringing BC Ferries back under complete provincial control.
Prioritizing Accessibility Over Profits
BC Ferries plays a crucial role in connecting communities across coastal BC. Yet, the current profit-driven model often neglects the needs of the residents. By establishing a provincially owned and operated network, we can prioritize accessibility for all residents over profits, returning the ferry system to its roots as a true extension of the BC Highway system. Our provincial government, with considerations for the broader public interest, could ensure that ferry services are affordable, dependable, and accessible to the communities that rely on them as a lifeline. This means expanding and maintaining reliable service levels to the Gulf Islands and even more remote communities like Sointula and Alert Bay. Allowing us to promote transportation equity while supporting economic development and the livelihoods of those that live in regions with limited transportation options.
Improving Service Reliability Through Strategic Investments
To improve service reliability, we must prioritize investments in infrastructure, vessel maintenance, and staff recruitment. Many BC Ferries workers are employed on short-term contracts, many of which are characterized by infrequent hours and relatively low entry pay for the level of work and certification requested. Creating an environment where employees are able to access adequate resources, consistent schedules, and competitive salaries will be paramount. Ensuring a positive work environment will allow us to enhance service reliability and contribute to a more positive travel experience for passengers while strengthening our overall transportation network. Providing better job security and opportunities for career advancement will not only attract skilled workers but also motivate them to perform at their best, ultimately contributing to a more positive travel experience for passengers and strengthening the overall transportation network.
Long-Term Stability and Adaptation Through Provincial Control
A BC Ferries under provincial control could allow for long-term strategic planning and stability, enabling the province to adapt more readily to a shifting region. Government oversight could facilitate strategic decision-making that factors in the needs of communities, the environment, and long-term sustainability. With a coordinated approach, we could achieve efficient route management, optimized schedules, and improved integration with other modes of transportation at points of origin and destinations. A more holistic and interconnected transportation network begins with a coordinated ferry system that operates with increased oversight and accountability. By considering the broader public interest, a provincially controlled BC Ferries system can foster a more holistic and interconnected transportation network, benefiting both residents and visitors alike.
Equity and Mobility: A Core Concern
Equitable mobility should be the core concern for any transportation network, especially one that over 800,000 British Columbians rely on to access the mainland of their province. As the island and its neighbouring archipelagos continue to grow in population, it is crucial to strengthen a transportation network that is independent of market forces. BC Ferries, as a government-run entity, could make decisions based on the needs of the public and the communities served, reducing uncertainty for those who live in communities dependent on ferry schedules. It would also make many areas on and around the island more accessible to live, work, and play.
Embracing Sustainability for a Greener Future
As we recognize the urgency of addressing climate change, our ferry system presents an opportunity to prioritize sustainability throughout our fleet. By investing in greener technologies such as hybrid or electric vessels and implementing environmentally friendly practices like more coordinated scheduling and optimized routes, BC Ferries can contribute to a more sustainable future. Coordinated planning with other modes of transportation, such as buses, trains, and cycling infrastructure, can further encourage multimodal travel options and reduce reliance on personal vehicles- further reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By adopting these sustainable practices and integrating them into the ferry system, BC Ferries can not only mitigate its environmental impact but also serve as a model for other transportation networks striving for a greener and more sustainable future.
Looking Ahead: Thoughts From the Sundeck
Our ferry system's challenges can be addressed by reimagining it under public control. A provincially owned and operated ferry system, prioritizing accessibility and sustainability, can better serve the needs of coastal communities, travellers, and this beautiful place we call home. We continuously invest in our transportation networks, like our motorways, because we recognize their essential role in mobility. Running ferries through a profit-focused lens will never yield the level of service, reliability, and equity that is required of an essential service.
As we navigate the future of the transportation network, we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the idea of re-absorbing the ferry system under public control. It is a valuable endeavour that could lead to a more efficient, inclusive, and environmentally conscious ferry network where communities that depend on it have access to the essential service that BC Ferries should be. Reimagining BC Ferries under public control isn't just a visionary endeavour; it's a pivotal step toward forging an efficient, inclusive, and environmentally conscious ferry network that connects communities, empowers lives, and ensures that the breathtaking beauty of a Sointula sunset remains accessible to all.
This is the third blog in a series on transportation equity in the region.
Published: July 6, 2023