Jack Barr, Powell River, guest Editorial Vancouver Sun
Opinion: It’s time for a fixed link to the Sunshine Coast
BC Ferries and Fiscal Fairness. It’s time. The Case for the Coastal Connector: Why it’s time for a fixed link to the Sunshine Coast.
For both residents and businesses of British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast communities, the need for the often discussed fixed link between them and the Lower Mainland has never been stronger. The number one reason for the renewed interest and BC Government commissioned feasibility study is an ineffectual Langdale to Horseshoe Bay ferry service.
It is a system that has not only become cost prohibitive but dysfunctional with delays (worst on-time performance in the fleet), not infrequent hours-long waits, and last minute breakdowns due to mechanical issues. Those most affected are the ones who most often rely on this vital service. Firstly, and foremost, the economics of the link speak for themselves.
At a potential construction cost of $1 billion dollars, the current ferry traffic volume of over 1 million vehicles, at a toll of $45 which is consistent with the fare to cross the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island, would produce in excess of $45 million annually. That is over $2 million per year more than the amortized cost of construction at 3%. As well, with a car and driver fare of $68, or a family of 4 at $115, the immediate savings to the traveller is between 34% and 60% respectively.
This coupled with travel time being, at worst, the same 90 minutes of wait and sail, to saving hours if there is a sailing or two wait in the heat of the summer. Add to this the convenience of being able to travel 24/7 and the rationale of this project becomes clear. Powell River has an aging and declining population. With almost 60% over 50 years old and 22% over 65 and a similar story on the Lower Coast it is unimaginable to think that the municipal tax burdens can be sustained on the backs of this demographic.
The resultant 3% decline in its population, challenges to tourism, the devastating loss in revenue in both the retail and hospitality sectors exacerbated by supply and demand issues plus the decline of general economic environment have made the situation urgent. In response, the Powell River Chamber of Commerce embarked on its Fiscal Fairness for Ferry Dependent Communities mission and passed a resolution at the BC Chamber Annual General Meeting which called for alternatives to BC’s marine transportation corridor, including toll bridges and highways if suitable to the needs of the communities. Reliable, efficient and convenient transportation systems are vital to growing economies.
A fixed link would stimulate commerce, attract tourism and provide affordable, accessible options to working families trying to escape an overpriced, burgeoning Lower Mainland region that is geographically challenged and expected to grow by an additional 1.5 million people within 20 years.
A region who battles in not only trying to save remaining Agricultural Lands to the east in order to supply local foods for future generations but also continues to struggle in preserving a healthy air quality as well. While on the topic of air quality, a fixed link could cut current emissions in half.
If the Queen of Surrey burns approximately 1,300 litres of diesel fuel per trip and has a capacity of about 360 vehicles, it would be the equivalent of 3.6 litres of fuel used per vehicle. That would be like driving an average mid-sized car about 50 kilometers, or the approximate distance of the proposed Anvil Island crossing. However, as the Langdale Ferry operates at best 50% occupancy, about half the amount of fuel would be used. This will only improve with increased hybrid and electric car options in the future.
BC Ferries and Fiscal Fairness. It’s time. Change is constant. Just as the Union Steamship era was over when the Black Ball Ferries took over and provided vehicle Ferry Service to the Coast, it is now time for the Ferry era to end here and, in the words of the Transportation Minister, “to ensure Coastal communities are connected in an affordable, efficient and sustainable manner.”
Jack Barr is the President of the Powell River Chamber of Commerce.