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Ferry sailings cut, but few face waits

May 20 2012

The lack of travel disruptions in face of reduced ferry sailings on the long weekend could indicate fewer people are taking their vehicles to and from Vancouver Island, says the president for the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers' Union.

Eight sailings between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen ferry terminals were cancelled when the Queen of New Westminster had a series of unrelated mechanical problems and was taken off the route for two days during one of the busiest weekends.

Ferry costs are too high, according to the union, pointing out that ticket prices on major routes have risen 47 per cent in nine years and 80 per cent on minor routes. "I don't think people have the money," said union president Richard Goode.

The Queen of New Westminster first had troubles with its rudder on Friday, forcing the cancellation of the 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. sailings out of Swartz Bay and the 8 a.m. and noon ferries out of Tsawwassen.

A second, unrelated problem with the ship's sea-water cooling system caused the generators to overheat, leading the same sailings to be cancelled Saturday.

The vessel was in the water for sea trials Saturday as engineers and technicians repaired the cooling system for the ship's generators. Repair work was expected to last until late Saturday, said B.C. Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall.

B.C. Ferries put on an additional run on Saturday to clear up the one-sailing wait, but otherwise, traffic continued without much disruption.

"Normally on a long weekend, we would see a one-sailing wait on a Saturday and that's all we've seen today," Marshall said.

"We did have overloads with foot passengers, so that may tell us that more people are travelling by foot."

B.C. Ferries won't have figures for the weekend's traffic until later in the week, but the corporation's numbers show annual passenger numbers are down across the board with 3.5 per cent fewer vehicles and 2.8 per cent for foot passengers, Marshall said.

Fewer sailing waits on a long weekend could also be attributed to several other factors, including the use of larger vessels.

The Coastal Renaissance operates between Swartz Bay Tsawwassen and carries up to 370 vehicles, about 100 more than the Queen of Saanich, which formerly plied the route.

Meanwhile, legislation introduced by the provincial government could give the independent ferry commissioner the power to cut service levels on routes.

The Transportation Ministry announced an additional $80 million in subsidies for the next five years, but warned of significant changes to service levels. dspalding@timescolonist.com

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