Transportation Minister Todd Stone’s decisions around Route 40 have accomplished precisely the opposite of his stated intentions, exactly as critics in the region have predicted. He spent more than the expected savings to cancel one of BC Ferries’ most utilized sailings and replaced an aging vessel with an older, slower, and much smaller one that has crippled tourism along the Discovery Coast and will still need to be replaced in short order. It calls into question the Minister’s ability to make a rational decision related to his portfolio.
Minister Stone cherry-picked financial results from the 2012 summer season to justify his decisions, rather than the more relevant 2013 results, the 5-year average, or even the 10-year average. The 2012 numbers included large capital cost and debt service write-offs, artificially inflating losses that subsequently were proven to be temporary. This was either a deliberate deception by Minister Stone to make the route appear to be performing terribly, or an act of incompetence in not looking at the data clearly.
“In every instance, Minister Stone’s decisions have had the exact opposite effect from his stated justification and intent,” said Leonard Ellis, Vice-Chair of Save the Discovery Coast Ferry. “He could not have made more harmful, destructive, and costly choices if he deliberately tried.”
The amount of traffic on this particular route was also given as a reason for the cuts, with Minister Stone stating Route 40 “carried approximately 500 vehicles” in the 2012 season. This number appears to be made up whole cloth, as BC Ferries records show Route 40 carried 2,138 vehicles (or 2,643 automobile equivalents), at least four or five times greater than the Minister believes. Even at full capacity, the Nimpkish could carry only a third of the regular traffic known to travel this route every year, limiting travel for both residents and tourists.
When the Minister quoted low utilization rates as further justification, he used rates for the entire Route 40. But the cuts were made to just one portion of the route, the direct sailing between Port Hardy and Bella Coola. That route’s capacity utilization was exactly in line with the BC Ferries average, and its southbound sailing had the second-highest utilization rate in the entire fleet.
In replacing the aging (but recently refurbished at great expense) Queen of Chilliwack with the even older, much smaller 16-vehicle Nimpkish, Minister Stone suggested there would be cost savings of approximately $725,000. Instead, extra sailings were required to try to handle a portion of the demand, a connection to the Route 10 ferry had to be established at Bella Bella, and modifications were made to the Nimpkish so passengers would at least have access to potable water for the 9 hour voyage. Instead of being a cost savings, the switch likely cost BC Ferries money, and a replacement vessel will still be needed in a few short years.
“Replacing the Queen of Chilliwack with the Nimpkish has actively harmed not only the tourism industry, it has made life difficult for residents,” stated Petrus Rykes, Chair. “We need a solution that actually works for the region, and a replacement for a Minister who has not demonstrated the ability to make a rational decision.”