Province backs down on Horseshoe Bay ferry route cut

Public reaction was swift to condemn any proposal to cancel ferry service between Nanaimo and Horseshoe Bay – and B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone has now backed away from the idea.

BC Ferries included that option as part of its latest submission to the BC Ferry Commissioner to cut costs, during Performance Term 4 of the corporation’s 10-year capital plan.

The idea was to close or significantly curtail travel on the Horseshoe Bay route, rerouting travel through the Tsawwassen terminal. Almost without exception ferry users, political leaders and the business community are angry at the idea.

The Canadian Press reported Stone said Wednesday the Nanaimo-to-Horseshoe Bay run is an "iconic" British Columbia ferry route and it will not be sunk. He says lobbying from Liberal caucus members Michelle Stilwell and Don McRae, who are from the Island, convinced him of the need to preserve the service.

Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan says he was flooded with calls and emails from residents who were concerned about the potential terminal closures and service reductions.

The travelling public also showed little enthusiasm for the plan.

"I think it’s insane," said Mario Castellani, a Burnaby resident who has a cabin in Bamfield he’s used as his Island retreat for 22 years. "If we have to go all the way out to Tsawwassen, it’s more gas, more time."

Brian Miller, a professional planner, travels by ferry every week to the Lower Mainland, and "going through Tsawwassen is going to add at least another three hours,"

Miller said.

"I’m shocked they’re actually doing this. It’s all about money. [BC Ferries] should be a Crown corporation still."

BC Ferries faces $3.1 billion in expenditures over the next 12 years, with more than $200 million for Horseshoe Bay terminal improvements alone. With Nanaimo’s two routes carrying the same traffic as the Vancouver-Victoria route, amalgamation is one of several potential options.

Moving all traffic to Duke Point, a single-berth facility, puts Island transportation at risk, said Ruttan.

Joe Stanhope, Regional District of Nanaimo board chairman, called the proposal "terrible news."

In September, delegates from every B.C. municipality voted for a motion urging government to do study of the impacts of high ferry fares and service cuts.