May 2021 Newsletter
Updated: May 5, 2021
Hello everyone, I’m trying to be a little earlier this time around because of the hot-button topic of BC Ferries, and because there are no meetings this week, so I have a bit more time. So let’s dive in.
The BC Ferries thing
So here is what happened. BC Ferries came to us and asked us if we would be interested in supporting a pilot study that essentially required 100% reservations, eliminating the uncertainty of whether you’re on the ferry or not, eliminating multiple sailing waits at the terminal, evening out the volume spread throughout the day, and reducing the amount of time spent in public facilities and terminals during a pandemic. It sounded good. We thought it was at least worth a try, knowing that other ferry systems, like the Washington State ferries, are already using a system like it.
The SCRD was the second to last local government (SIGD had yet to endorse) on the entire Sunshine Coast, North and South, to endorse this plan. As soon as the meeting was done, a press release was provided to the Coast Reporter with the headline “SCRD endorses BC Ferries Route 3 trial”, essentially creating the impression that it was the SCRD’s decision to ask for and run this trial. BC Ferries does not need any local government permission to run this trial.
The article then went on describing the rough outline of the trial, omitting many of the essential details and considerations that were discussed, and admittedly some that weren’t, at the SCRD board meeting. The internet was ablaze within minutes.
Here’s why we chose to endorse it:
1. What we have now isn’t working. It’s a trial. You need to try new things to see if they work. It may, it may not. That’s why you try. You need to try it in peak season, because in winter there’s not enough volume to need it.
2. This would not be as big an issue with hourly sailings, but we’re not getting an additional ferry anytime soon, COVID saw to that.
3. This requires a change in behaviour, but it’s not a huge change. When you know for sure which ferry you want to be on (and not before), go online, make a reservation. If you’re within 45 minutes of your sailing and the ferry isn’t full, you can still make the ferry, it’ll only cost you more. If you’re worried the ferry is going to be booked out because everyone will be making reservations on everything just because they can, there is a disincentive to do that because no shows will be fined. So don’t book until you know which ferry you want to be on. If it’s already booked out, guess what, it’s still first come-first serve, the time frame is simply moved forward. If you’re a commuter, just because you now have to make a reservation doesn’t mean you have to book months ahead. The overall number of people using ferries is not going to increase. There may be a little more demand on the sailings before and after peak times as sailings at peak time are booked out, but you will still be able to go. If you miss a sailing because it’s booked out, you can now stay home, have a bite to eat or relax in a park and then drive there in time for the next sailing. Nothing changes for walk-on traffic.
4. We have enough technology saturation that we can run this. Even seniors now generally have a smart phone, most people have a credit card. Granted, there are some who don’t have a cel phone and/or don’t have a credit card to pay, who may be inconvenienced, but it is a very small part of the population. I do hope that BC ferries figures out a way to accommodate those folks.
There are still many unanswered questions that both us and the public have raised, and BC ferries is working on getting out more information. There is a lot of misinformation and inaccurate information going around, including a spreadsheet claiming price increases that is not quite accurate, so please be patient and wait for official information from BC ferries. They have now created a dedicated webpage for this project, and they will continue to update it as information becomes available. Darnelda Siegers and her staff have scoured as much of the social media as they could and sent a list of over 100 questions and concerns to BC Ferries in the hope they will all be answered. This trial is currently slated to start on June 21 and should be over by October 13th.
In retrospect, we were a little hasty in endorsing this and I think we will not be making that mistake again. The press release did throw us under the ferry, but if we had done this at committee we would have been able to gather some feedback before deciding on it at board. Alas, lesson learned. There is still time to ask questions and solicit feedback from BC Ferries, so please take the opportunity to do so. If you would like to get Donna McMahon’s take on this, here it is.
Editorial: This post and newsletter was originally created on April 28th, before BC ferries decided to cancel this trial. I am now updating this post on May 3rd with my thoughts now that they have canceled it. I am disappointed. Disappointed that this potentially worthwhile solution wasn't even given the benefit of the doubt. I'm especially disappointed at those residents of the Sunshine Coast who spouted vitriol and hate all over social media, our staff and BC ferries staff without actually looking more into it or taking the time to reflect what it would actually mean. There were racist, sexist and insulting remarks. To oppose change just for the sake of opposing it is not helping anyone.
Thank you for those of you who gave measured, thoughtful and informed feedback. There are a lot of people who had legitimate concerns, who were unfortunately drowned out by those being disrespectful. In this time of social media the fact that everyone, including politicians and managers, are still human and are largely doing their job to the best of their abilities and most of them don't have ill intent towards anyone is often forgotten. The management of BC ferries does not get up in the morning and says "Let's see how we can screw these people". They get up and say to themselves "Let's see how we can provide the best service given the constraints we have." They will make mistakes, as do we at the SCRD board. It is through respectful dialogue that we see our mistakes, retain our humanity and our respect towards another.
The elected officials of the Sunshine Coast have spent years nurturing a better relationship with BC Ferries that includes more two-way communication, and I am afraid that a lot of this work has now been undone. BC Ferries management now likely has a very bad taste in their mouth when anyone brings up Route 3. Guess what, they have 40 other routes they can turn their attention to. Yes, they made mistakes with a hasty and incomplete roll-out, and I don't think canceling and not admitting some mistakes is a mature way of dealing with the issue, but I can empathize with them to some extent.
Yes, the SCRD board made a mistake with a hasty endorsement. I still think this was a good concept in principle with some fine-tuning of the details, but that has now been destroyed by disrespectful behaviour. There was ample time to fine tune and give constructive feedback. It does not warrant the uninformed vitriol seen online. I expect better from this beautiful community called the Sunshine Coast. I hope BC ferries tries again with a different approach.
Boy, here’s another big topic. COVID has fueled an already booming real estate market here on the Coast, creating unprecedented increases in property values over a short period of time. Even before COVID housing affordability was a problem, now it’s a crisis. We lack housing diversity, especially in the rural areas, but on the Coast in general. We can’t expect to have a flourishing, diverse and inclusive population while predominantly offering only one type of housing: single detached homes on large properties. The board, staff and all the organizations involved in housing on the Sunshine Coast have met multiple times in the last month and a half and we’re trying to create some momentum to solve this problem. Creating more of what we have will do very little to solve this crisis. We need small, 600-1200 square foot places with higher density to create more affordability. We need places for seniors to move to so they can age in place after their acreages become too much and/or their houses too big. We need affordable places for young singles, couples and young families so we can have people to employ. This needs a whole Coast approach, and what Roberts Creek and the other rural areas’ role is is yet to be determined, but it will likely need OCP amendments, an amendment to our zoning bylaw and the creation of a coordinating governing body that will create a plan that includes everyone. Stay tuned for more.
Let’s Talk SCRD.ca
Now that we’ve been accused of not consulting the public before endorsing the BC ferries trial, it is somewhat ironic that we have just launched a public engagement platform called Let’s Talk Scrd.ca. Make it a bookmark, as this is where we are, from now on, soliciting feedback on proposed initiatives. There is information on Let’s Talk Water, it explains your utility bill, and updates about the roll-out of curbside recycling, for example. Very happy that this space now exists and it will be worth it to check in on this often.
Shelley Gagnon, GM Community Services
We, the board, and especially our senior management team at the SCRD, are happy to inform you that Shelley Gagnon has accepted the position of GM of Community Services.
Shelley was previously employed as the Manager of Recreation, Parks & Culture for the City of Red Deer, Alberta, with an operating budget of $27 million and 350 staff. The GM of Community Services will oversee Parks, Recreation, and Transit. See Organization Chart. By the way, this is not really a "new" position. The SCRD had a Community Services manager until 2015, when the position was eliminated and departments were rolled under other managers. Let's just say that didn't work out.
That’s it from me for now. In case you have any questions or concerns, you can always email me.