Tourism operators in the Chilcotin have feared for a long time they would lose the Discovery Coast ferry, said Petrus Rykes of the West Chilcotin Tourism Association.
“Every year we’ve had this cloud hanging over our head. Is the ferry going to be cancelled?”
Rykes owns and operates the Eagle’s Nest Resort at Anahim Lake and said he would not be fighting to keep the ferry going if it was strictly about losing money.
With the Discovery Coast route there are three variations, Rykes explained.
“You’ve got a milk run that’s 33 hours long, another milk run that’s 20 hours long and a direct run from Port Hardy to Bella Coola that’s 15 hours long.”
His rough calculation revealed that 15 per cent of the sailings of the direct run do 70 per cent of the volume.
“So you’ve got the milk runs doing close to 85 per cent of the sailings and 30 per cent of the volume, where do you think you’re losing money?”
In the first years of the ferry running in 1996 and 1997, approximately 9,000 people rode the ferry each year.
“One year, a month or two before the ferry was going to start up, they cut out a third and slashed the month of September,” Rykes recalled. “I personally lost a third of my business, and the passenger rate dropped to below 7,000.”
The route was cancelled in 2002, but Rykes was on the tourism board at the time. The communities fought and the decision was rescinded.
Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone, however, said Tuesday evening eliminating the Discovery Coast route “is pretty much a done deal.”
“The savings that we realize from eliminating Route 40 are $700,000 per year, and exponentially more after that, have to be realized,” Stone said.
If there was to be any change in the decsion that was made to reverse the decision to eliminate the route, the savings would have to be found elsewhere, he said.
On Wednesday, Nov. 27, Stone will meet with Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Shirley Bond and Minister of State for Small Business Naomi Yamomoto, he said.
“We will explore potential options in terms of mitigation of the impacts of the decision.”
If someone can come to him with $700,000-plus savings from a service level perspective somewhere else in the ferry system, then perhaps the decision could be reconsidered, Stone said.
“The other part that is really driving this decision and annual savings is the Queen of Chilliwack needs to be replaced in three years.”
The vessel has a current vehicle capacity of 113 cars.
“The replacement cost on a ferry half the size and improvements on the related ferry terminal would be in the neighbourhood of $100 million per year from a capital perspective,” Stone said.
Cutting the route was a difficult decision, but the right one Stone said.