Gulf Islands ferry sailing cancellations linked to lack of affordable housing for ferry workers

In past 28 days, BC Ferries canceled 157 sailings; 15,564 sailings were completed

Disruption of ferry service for Salt Spring Island is linked to the lack of affordable housing on Salt Spring, says the executive director of the local chamber of commerce.

“We’ve called on the provincial government to step up and help with some of the [housing] shortage,” Alexander Fischer-Jean said Monday.

Officials on Salt Spring Island and Quadra Island are concerned about ferry service, with each pointing out the need for affordable housing for ferry crew members.

In the past 28 days, BC Ferries has canceled 157 sailings, company spokesperson Deborah Marshall said Monday. Most of the canceled sailings were due to lack of crew being available.

During that time, BC Ferries completed 15,564 sailings.

The company can not operate a ferry if it does not have the necessary staff to fill specific jobs, with senior positions most in demand. That’s what has been happening in recent months as cancellations have climbed.

Mark Collins, who served as BC Ferries president until being ousted on Thursday, said recently that the number of crew members on Quadra Island had been steadily declining, probably due to the cost and lack of housing.

On Quadra, residents fear they could be stranded if a night time medical emergency occurred because BC Ferries could not guarantee a crew for a sailing to carry an ambulance to hospital in Campbell River.

Collins and Jim Abram, Quadra Island regional director, were in discussions in the past two weeks about ambulance service. A meeting was set up with Abram, BC Ferries and BC Emergency Health Services to try to resolve the ambulance issue.

“Mark Collins is the one who put the meeting together for me so you know he was doing his best,”said Abram.

He called the decision to cancel Collins’ employment contract a “big mistake.”

Many years ago, there used to be housing for crew in a trailer on Quadra, but no longer, Abram said.

Workers would spend four nights on Quadra and be able to keep their main home on Vancouver Island, for example.

These days, some ferry workers have been unable to find housing on Quadra Island, he said.

“We’ve been working on that as a community and as a local government to try and provide housing.”

People can’t afford to live anywhere anymore, Abram said, pointing to the province-wide shortage of affordable housing.

Fischer-Jean said the chamber does not expect a quick fix for the ferries because of the change in management.

“It’s really going to take a long-term initiative from the provincial government to fix the housing crisis.”

Salt Spring Island has been particularly hard hit by cancellations recently. It has three ferry runs — out of Fulford Harbor, Vesuvius Bay and Long Harbor, east of Ganges.

Workers are needed on Salt Spring because those locations are the home ports for the ferries, Fischer-Jean said.

Cancelled sailings have greatly impacted Salt Spring businesses, he said. “We rely so heavily on ferry service.”

Residents are frustrated, he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

He’s been calling local tourism-related businesses and has heard of people leaving early because they are afraid of being stranded.

There are no apartments for rent, no condominiums on the island, he said. The average selling price for a house on Salt Spring is $1.5 million, Fischer-Jean said. Some people bring in tiny homes to set up as a place to live.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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