Transportation related issues continue to be very challenging in Saanich North and the Islands and across British Columbia.
Over the past couple of weeks opposition critics have been questioning Minister Claire Travena in budget estimates.
Transportation and Infrastructure is a big portfolio including ferries, transit, roads and highways. The demands are clearly not just local. As my colleagues from north to south and east to west question Minister Travena we daylight the growing infrastructure deficit.
I am grateful for the 30 minutes I had to canvass the issues. However, in that time it is simply not possible to cover the breadth of provincial and local needs, as well as questioning the philosophical approach of the Minister and Ministry, in addressing the overwhelming task of building and maintaining the critical infrastructure our economy and society rides on.
These are emotional issues. Whether it be the ferries that connect coastal communities, the bus we need for our daily commute or the roads that connect us with each other by car, by bicycle, by foot, and to the goods and services we need, our robust transportation network is in large part responsible for our safe, secure and prosperous communities. We rely on these important resources everyday.
Over the past three years I and my colleagues hear from our constituents that this is a priority and we have been asking the Minister the same questions. We have in large part been getting the same responses. Essentially, the problems are many, and the resources are scarce.
Below is the transcript of my exchange with Minister Travena. Unfortunately, time is short and I had very little opportunity to highlight all the transportation related issues that I and my constituency staff have been working on. However, I did attempt to summarize the challenges and rest assured I will continue to strongly advocate for our communities and will always seek creative solutions.
Roads and Highways
It’s late Friday afternoon and I could not figure out how to create jump links here so you will find the content for each area by scrolling down. Apologies for the inconvenience.
Thank you to the member for Surrey-Cloverdale, and thank you to the minister for this opportunity to talk about B.C. Ferries.
I would just like to start this by thanking the staff on board these vessels, the staff at the terminals as well as the administrative staff who have obviously all been working on the front lines. They’re very important front-line workers and essential services to so many communities in my riding, so many beautiful communities in the southern Gulf Islands.
I just want to thank them for their work and also to recognize that they’ve had the very difficult challenge of often having to deliver messages that were tough messages to deliver, with respect to travel and people wanting to travel back and forth and to limit to essential travel. So to all of the staff of B.C. Ferries, I want to raise my hands in acknowledgment and gratitude for the work that they did.
I want to just go back to a question that the member for Surrey-Cloverdale touched on a little bit, with respect to decisions that were made early in this term with respect to freezing fares, cutting fares, reinstating cut routes. These all came at a cost to B.C. Ferries.
Does the minister have any context of what those decisions, the impact that those had now — kind of looking back on them — on the bottom line for B.C. Ferries?
Hon. C. Trevena:
Thank you to the leader of the Green Party for that nice acknowledgment of the work of B.C. Ferries. I think that you and I…. I live on an island, and I know that the people, whether they’re deckhands or engineers or on the bridge or at the ferry ticket booth, are part of the community and do a huge part, not just in their jobs. They do support us.
Just to answer the member’s questions, the 15 percent fare reduction — rolling back fares by 15 percent on all the routes except the majors, where fares were frozen — cost the province $32.5 million. We also reinstated the 2,700 sailings that the previous government had axed, at a cost of $5.8 million.
These were done in agreement. We negotiated a mutual agreement with B.C. Ferries to enact these. When we first started this, back in 2017, 2018, and even up to last year, B.C. Ferries was at the time making record profits.
Just to be clear, then, these were not costs that were handed on to B.C. Ferries. These were costs that were paid for by the province.
Hon. C. Trevena:
Yes, they were paid for by the province, and they continue to be paid for by the province.
Shifting gears a little bit here, just in terms of the numbers. There have been some numbers that have been publicized, as the member mentioned earlier — $1.5 million a day. That number has been decreasing over time. Certainly, the situation at B.C. Ferries is a bleak one, just as it is for other transportation providers that we’ll get into, I’m sure, as we get through here.
From the answers that the minister has been providing, it sounds like the hope is that the increased ridership is going to somehow make up for this. Maybe I’m not hearing this — the answers that were given — correctly. Does the province intend on providing any financial support for B.C. Ferries? Or is it up to B.C. Ferries to make up the losses that they’ve endured through the COVID-19 pandemic, in at least these first four months?
Hon. C. Trevena:
We are having a regular dialogue with B.C. Ferries, as we are with B.C. Transit, with TransLink, with all transportation providers. It is unprecedented — I think the word has become so commonplace — but these are unprecedented times. We are continuing to work with them and continue to follow what is happening with ridership in all these transportation entities, but it’s still too soon to make definitive statements about what happens next.
It is June. The worst part was, obviously, March into the beginning of April. We’re starting to see changes. Times are fluid. We want to work with all the entities to make sure that we come up with the right solutions for the people of B.C.
Transit and ferries are still operating, so they must have at least some ability to still pay the bills. I’m just wondering what kind of options might be on the table, other than the provincial government supporting these. As the minister has pointed out, these are essential services. With B.C. Ferries, we’ve heard — in the minister’s responses, a couple of times — of the interesting kind of corporate relationship that we have with this particular service provider.
I’m just wondering what options there might be on the table. The reality is that the system was stressed — certainly, the system in my riding, I hear about it all the time — and was straining to deliver the services to the people of British Columbia. As the minister quite rightly pointed out, that is the primary goal of this service. I’m just wondering what contingencies are in place to support not only all the workers that work on B.C. Ferries but also this service that connects our communities in a vital way.
Hon. C. Trevena:
I’m sorry. I’m not being evasive here to the member. We are working with B.C. Ferries just to try and understand their complete financial situation. They are an independent entity. So we haven’t, as a province, got the ability to dive deeply into their books. We are working with them to look at the different options, what might transpire.
While we are hitting stage 3 here at the end of June, going into the beginning of July, it is still very early in the restart. Those conversations are still happening.
Part of the challenge that I think I’m covering here is that while we are still in this situation, and there, perhaps, is still some time to go in the situation that we’re in with COVID-19, the reality is I think that it’s very unlikely the ferry system is going to be able to make up, in the short term, for the very substantial financial hits to their revenue that they have taken over the past four months.
That’s going to impact decisions that they’re making, as was pointed out by my colleague for Surrey-Cloverdale, on their capital expenditures. The problem with that, of course, is that we need these services to be resilient and sustainable over a long period of time. If the only option is for them to slash capital budgets, then all we’re doing is saying that this four-month hit is going to actually be, potentially, years.
It could impact their capital budgets over decades, rather than the government sitting back and not providing the support that might be needed in order for them to be able to maintain some semblance of normalcy — recognizing that there’s nothing normal about the situation that we’re in — so that then they can preserve some of the capital budgets.
I’m hearing, on a regular basis, and I know that you hear from our office, about terminal infrastructure being very underscoped at Vesuvius and Fulford and on many others. Basically, by sitting back and forcing them or by not offering something now, we’re basically making them make a decision to cut investments that they can make to improve the system over a long term. I’m not sure if that’s the best scenario. Have the government and the minister considered the potential impact that that’s going to have on our constituents over the long term?
Hon. C. Trevena:
I think the member and I agreed on the importance of the ferry system, that it is integral to the lives of many people, the success of many businesses and the vibrancy of many communities. That’s why our government has made record investments in B.C. Ferries, and that’s why we are having these conversations with B.C. Ferries. That’s why we are not accepting cuts in service. It’s why we are working with B.C. Ferries to try to find ways forward in times that are unprecedented.
It’s too early to be making any decisions about cuts in capital or cuts in procurement or whatever it is. We are three months into a pandemic that has shaken our economy and shaken our society. This is not the time to be making major decisions. It’s a time to actually be having conversations, to be working through lots of different potential options and to be having those hopefully very collegial conversations about what is in the best interests of the people of British Columbia.
I agree that we are in the beginning stages of what could potentially go on for a long time. I’m just not sure at what point it is that we go from the situation that we’re in now to the situation that we’re going to be in. At what point do we have that conversation?
I think the reality is that while we, from the provincial perspective, are still in the very early stages and we’re just beginning the restart and beginning the process of building the economy up again, the reality is that this service provider has been losing money every day and has been losing substantial money every day. Because it’s not a Crown Corporation, or because it’s not part of the Ministry of Transportation, the administration of that organization — because it is the corporate structure that it is — has to make decisions. I don’t know that they can just sit back. I think they have to find a way to pay the bills.
If the province hasn’t provided options to that corporation for them to pay bills, then they’re going to be looking for that money somewhere else. It’s my understanding from the answers that the minister has given today that they have not provided other options. That means that clearly, they’re getting the money from somewhere. That’s either emptying out their contingencies or other funds that they have.
That is actually undercutting their ability to provide a sustainable service in the future. I mean, we had a lot of old ferries, and the B.C. Ferries corporation has been in a process of renewing those ferries in a ferry renewal plan that hopefully is sustainable over the long term, so we don’t have to buy a bunch of ferries all at once again.
I’m just wondering. At what point do we go from being in the early stages of this pandemic to actually putting some solutions on the table that recognize the provincial interest of this in a way that…? To some extent, the answers here…. The ferries are arm’s-length, but on the other hand, they’re also a critical provider of transportation for British Columbia citizens to get to their homes, to connect to their homes.
I want to better understand at what point we go from trying to understand the situation that we’re in to actually putting solutions on the table so that they’re not undermining their ability to provide a sustainable service and to do the very needed upgrades that are needed right now, that have been needed for decades, at the Fulford ferry terminal, as an example.
Hon. C. Trevena:
We’ve been working with B.C. Ferries since the very start of this. That’s why we got into the agreement with the ferry corporation to reduce service drastically. I mean, to stop two routes, one of the minors and one of the majors, was a significant reduction in service.
We did it continuing to pay B.C. Ferries the full contract amount. We have not cut back any of our funding to B.C. Ferries, even though they are still not providing all the service. We have continued to pay full dollar to B.C. Ferries. Likewise, that’s why — I don’t know if you were across the conversation earlier with the opposition critic — we decided, also, to come up with the money to ensure that the discretionary sailings that B.C. Ferries had willingly provided before but now were not so willing to provide…. We paid that money for them.
B.C. Ferries came into this crisis as a very healthy company. Year on year, they were making record profits.
My answer to your previous question. I’m not being evasive. We are working with B.C. Ferries. We are talking to B.C. Ferries. People from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure are in conversation almost daily, if not daily, with their counterparts in B.C. Ferries as we all work through this.
Yes. We hear the big figures of loss that B.C. Ferries is stating. We have seen the declining ridership. We’ve seen the increase in ridership. We’re seeing that things are moving quickly, and we are working with B.C. Ferries to find solutions that will work for not just the short term but for the long term.
I’ll ask one more question. It might have one follow-up. Just to let my colleague from Surrey-Cloverdale know, I’m wrapping up here on this section.
I think, just to switch gears a little bit here…. I don’t want to leave B.C. Ferries without asking a question about the future. We’ve been talking about the impact of COVID-19 on B.C. Ferry Services and how we have, basically, floating highways where we move cars. It’s very much a car-centric system. I’ve talked with the minister about this a few times. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in foot passenger traffic.
I’m wondering what the future…. As we’re looking at building the economy and making investments in the future and where we want British Columbia to be, what kinds of considerations have been made within the ministry with respect to a philosophical approach to moving people?
We see, in the Inner Harbour, catamarans that bring people out to view the whales. Those boats are built right here on the Saanich Peninsula.
I’m just wondering if, perhaps, the ministry has now turned its mind and its thoughts to how we can revolutionize the ferry service to be moving passengers to where they need to go and to maybe providing an opportunity as part of the active transportation.
What kinds of thoughts does the minister have on that aspect of it, where we can start to move away from moving cars to moving people and getting them to the locations that they want to be? I’m thinking about Royal Bay to Esquimalt to Victoria, for an example, and then something that we’ve talked about: the southern Gulf Islands and ability to connect with Sidney directly rather than into Swartz Bay. There are probably others as well. I’ll leave it at that.
Hon. C. Trevena:
To the member, yes, thank you very much for raising this. The questions that the member is raising are really one of the reasons why I wanted to move ahead with the vision for the ferry system.
I say for the ferry system because I went into all the meetings that we held — we held seven meetings last fall — up and down the coast, over on Haida Gwaii, the Sunshine Coast and in the member’s own constituency. I believe the member sent his assistant to the meeting. It was to look at what a ferry system could be for the people of B.C., not just today or tomorrow but visionary, to look through the 20 years hence, maybe the 30 or 40 years hence, of what we do, how we want to ensure that our communities are well connected and that people are served in the way that they need to be served.
The member mentioned foot passenger ferries — this came up a number of times from a number of different communities — and also the potential of different routes. The ferry system that we have has been evolving over the last 60 or so years and was built primarily on, sort of, the steamship lines model. It’s just how we can make sure that people are being served in the way that they need to be served.
We’re seeing the growth in electric vehicles. We’re seeing a growth in active transportation. Obviously, our ministry has our own active transportation strategy, which was released last year. We are wanting to see what we can do. I think there is a real opportunity to look at how we can change the way that people are moving, and there is an appetite for that to be changed.
We launched it last year, last fall, had meetings, as I say, up and down the coast. We did online engagement, which was extended up until April because of COVID. We are analyzing the feedback from that. We’ll hopefully be able to outline the province’s vision — both the results of the very strong community engagement and how we as a province feel that a ferry system should be evolving for the people of B.C. — later this summer.
I just want to end with thanking the minister. I recognize that we are, literally, still in the middle of this; that’s not lost on me. But I did need to push on some of these areas, primarily because I’m well aware — as a minister who is from a ferry-dependent community, I’m sure you’re well aware — of the emotion that’s around this. This is the connective tissue, really, for our constituents who are on the islands, so there’s a lot of concern about the potential impact that this is going to have on the resilience and sustainability of the ferry system overall.
I think this line of questioning was really to demonstrate that we’re alive to those issues. I’ll continue to ask these questions, because I think it’s really important that our constituents do understand that we’re alive to the reality that they need those ferries to get to where they need to get to and to get back home again — and to work, I should say, as well. Thank you for your answers.
Hon. C. Trevena:
To the member, I appreciate the questions. He’s quite right; the ferries are vital. There is not just a huge amount of emotion but a huge amount of need. We want to make sure that we have a resilient system because this is still a marine highway for hundreds of thousands of people up and down the coast.
Good day — almost good afternoon — to the minister. I appreciate the opportunity, my colleague from Surrey-Cloverdale, for giving me a few minutes here before we break for lunch to just ask some questions around transit before we move on.
Again, as I started my comments yesterday with respect to B.C. Ferries, I’d like to do the same with all of the transit workers in our province and the incredible work that they’ve done on the front lines — courageous workers who have continued to provide an essential service for British Columbians. I want to raise my hands in gratitude and thankfulness for all of the British Columbians who continue to use those services, because that’s the way that they get around. So I’ll start with that.
I also want to acknowledge and raise my hands to my colleague from Kamloops–North Thompson for his questions around CleanBC and that work. I’m very thankful for his good work on that part of the file.
I think I just want to reiterate my colleague from West Vancouver–Sea to Sky’s questions and assertions of the importance around transit service in that part of our province. I know that when I go to the UBCM, I have often met with municipal leaders throughout that region. They have also shared with us the frustration that they have experienced in not having a reliable transit service through that entire region. I just want to, if it means anything, strengthen the statements of my colleague from West Vancouver–Sea to Sky on that. I think I’d like to talk with him a little bit further with respect to First Nations involvement on transit commissions across the province. I’ll just start there.
My question to the minister is similar to the questions that I had yesterday with respect to B.C. Ferries around the associated revenue losses due to COVID-19 and with respect to the provincial government’s perspective on supporting TransLink. We’re focused on B.C. Transit right now, but let’s just say that both of those services have experienced considerable drops in revenue, as was canvassed earlier by my colleague with respect to the impact that this has had on municipal governments.
I’m just wondering what the minister’s, perspective is on this — the provincial government stepping in to support these two very important institutions that provide public transportation across the province.
Hon. C. Trevena:
I appreciate the member’s acknowledgment. B.C. Transit and transit providers have been an essential service and continue to be an essential service. They were literally out on the front lines —people driving buses, working in maintenance yards and so on — and really have done a supreme job over the last number of months, literally being out there and working.
I think the member is aware that ridership tanked with COVID. It went down about 75 to 80 percent below its normal amount. I’m just talking about B.C. Transit; I’m not going to be talking about TransLink on these figures, but I think they’re similar. It’s starting to go up. We’re at about 40 percent of normal ridership now. So it’s creeping back up there. I think that as we move on with phase 3…. Our Restart Plan has started. We’re now into phase 3, so more people are going out. I think that we’ll see numbers go up. Fares, obviously, went back in on the first of June, after having the farebox stopped during COVID.
I think we’re going to start seeing a shift to the positive. We, as a provincial government, are working very closely with B.C. Transit — as with, as I mentioned yesterday, B.C. Ferries and with TransLink — just to work through what the impact of COVID is, what it means for the agency. It is beyond…. To be honest, it’s simplistic to say: “They’ve lost a lot of money. How are we going to help them?” We’ve got to really look at how we are working together to ensure that we are looking at all aspects.
We also are at the table with the federal government. There is $14 billion available. One of the priorities there, one of the priority areas, is transit. So we are having discussions with the federal government. They seem to be acknowledging the importance of transit now. It continues to be an ongoing dialogue to make sure that we come out of this, and that transit comes out of it, in a strong way in the coming months.
If I may just sneak one more question in here, recognizing that we’re getting very close to the time.
To follow up, I’ve asked questions of the minister in the past with respect to expansion of transit service on the Saanich Peninsula. I just wanted to contextualize that. I recognize that there’s a desire, across the province, as my colleague noted, for the expansion of transit service. How are those transit providers funding the loss of revenue in the meantime?
The minister has responded now with respect to B.C. Ferries, saying that the ministry is working alongside to understand what the challenges are. The reality is — as my colleague from Kamloops–North Thompson raised — that the cost of running a ferry and the cost of running a bus are largely the same in COVID as they are out of COVID. These corporations have expended a considerable amount of resources. What I’m very wary of is the fact that over the past number of months they’ve been spending resources that, perhaps, could have been used on much-needed expansion services.
I’m just trying to get to the bottom of how it is that these organizations have been funding their services and at what cost to the long-term sustainability of the organizations. Given the growth and resiliency of the future, has it come at a cost to the sustainability and the resiliency of those organizations?
Hon. C. Trevena:
Nobody wants to be a Cassandra. I think that B.C. Transit is able to support its service levels at the moment. We, as a government, working with our Crown corp. of B.C. Transit, continue to have that dialogue, continue to monitor, continue to see where things are moving and how we can work together. It may appear to be a not-specific-enough answer for the member, but as I mentioned yesterday when we were talking about B.C. Ferries, we are just starting phase 3.
Three months ago it was something that nobody had ever experienced. We are now working with Transit, as with the other transportation agencies, Ferries and TransLink, on how we can map out the future. We’re not sure how that future is going to look. So we’re not going to be definitive today and say what we’re going to be doing in September. I think we are still at that restart, edging back up, numbers edging up and just ensuring that we get that sustainability.
Hon. Chair, I move that the committee rise and report progress on the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
This session is now complete. Thank you, everybody.
The committee adjourned at 12 noon.
Roads and Highways
By this point I had very little of the time allotted me for this section. As you can see in the transcript I intended to get the issues on the record with a follow-up. I’m grateful to Minister Travena for providing a response and I look forward to meeting with her.
I’m not going to expect answers to this. I just want to briefly read into the record a couple of questions.
I will follow up with the minister. Hopefully we can maybe sit down when we’re in the session. I also want to raise my hands to staff in our riding. We’ve got incredibly challenging roads and highways issues in the Gulf Islands. As the minister well knows, Don Legault, Mike Pearson and Ryan Evanoff have worked very closely with my office. Like all my colleagues that we’ve heard, there are substantive challenges with roads and highways in our riding. Unfortunately, Saanich North and Islands is not exempt from that.
Some of the challenges, I think, are elevated expectation of what the roads should be. Some of it is the frustration of decades of effort, and some of it is simply the desire to bring their community infrastructure into line with the ministry’s active transportation goals.
We’ve heard from north to south, east to west, my colleagues highlighting the deficiencies and desires for our provincial transportation network.
Our roads and highways are what connect our communities and unite our province. They’re the surfaces that our economy rides on. For the most part, they were designed and built decades ago to perpetuate a culture that worships the car. I raise my hands to the many advocates in my communities, in my riding, for patiently persisting with their effort to get different outcomes.
However, Pauquachin First Nation youth continue to wait for the school bus by standing in the ditch on West Saanich Road. The long side after bus stops on the Pat Bay Highway at Mt. Newton are still long sought after. Roads and highways continue to be treacherous in the southern Gulf Islands.
Piers, Saturna, Galiano, Maine, Pender and Saltspring each have a long list of issues. Non-existent road bases, deteriorating surfaces, eroding shoulders, fading lines, messy road allowances, increasing liabilities — and that’s just to accommodate the vehicles.
Every community I represent wants to invest in active transportation. Some want to create more walkable communities, in Ganges, with a bypass. There’s a strong desire for walking and cycling paths in every community.
Salish Sea trail network could provide critical cycling infrastructure on Saltspring while adding it to a broader trail network connecting 14 ridings. Moving Around Pender has presented the ministry with a comprehensive list of needs on the island, and there’s a pressing need to enhance safety of foot and bike traffic between the community school and Magic Lake, the densest neighbourhood on the Gulf Islands.
As I see it, the province is managing barriers and obstacles, trying to balance incredible pressures on limited resources in an effort to placate communities. It feels like it’s a losing battle, and something has to give.
So I just want to ask the minister — and leave this for a future conversation but honour the incredible work of the constituents in my riding — what the ministry is going to do to better engage community members in the situation where we don’t have municipalities but the roads are very much important to the community members. To engage community members to be part of the solution — that’s the first question.
The second question is…. I think that there’s a relationship problem in our riding. The province owns the roads. The province is responsible for the roads, except the people who live in the communities feel a sense of ownership over their transportation infrastructure. So I’d like to ask the minister: as a result of this frustrating disconnect, what is the ministry doing to engage in the creative solutions that are coming out of the communities?
Finally — and then I’ll stop talking — other than the obvious need of proper cycling lanes on both sides of Fulford’s Ganges Road, on Saltspring Island, to complete the Salish Sea trail network, there are other options for smaller communities, one being advisory shoulders, for example. That would help achieve the goals of increasing active transportation on rural roads in a much more cost-effective way than widening them. Would the ministry pilot advisory shoulders for cycling and pedestrian traffic on the southern Gulf Islands. This is one that Pender Island is keenly interested in.
I’m going to leave that and step away now. But I thank the minister for the opportunity to continue the conversation.
Hon. C. Trevena:
I know that the member was not asking as a question; he wanted something read into the record. I’d like to actually respond on the record to the member. I hear what the member is saying about the sense of ownership when you live in an island community, and you’ve got the sense of: “These are our roads.” They are provincial roads. It’s something that we are looking at how we can make sure that our whole infrastructure — whether you’re in the southern Gulf Islands, the northern Gulf Islands, Haida Gwaii, any of the more communities — matches the needs of the communities.
There is community ownership. There is public ownership, and one would hope that the public ownership and the community ownership are one and the same.
The member talks a lot about active transportation in his riding, and I appreciate that. A couple of things. On the last part of the question, we are setting a number of pilot projects for active transportation. This is something that maybe Islands Trust or the capital regional district might want to be part of, in how to do this. We’re also…. Every time we are doing any highway improvements, we are now building in active transportation into that, so anything that is happening in any of his constituent communities would include that.
He sited, also, a number of places where there is a need for more active transportation. Just to let him know that over the last number of years, there have been a number of projects that have been funded through, or are actually transportation grants. West Saanich Road bike lanes, a couple of phases. A network plan is being funded for North Saanich, and Salt Spring’s getting a Lower Ganges pathway from Booth Canal to Baker Road.
Also, basically, all our improvements are going to be benefitting cycling and pathways. Keating Cross Road — I know this is very close to the member’s heart — is going to have a two-and-a-half-metres-wide shoulder, potentially multi-use pathway. There’ll be a widened pedestrian sidewalk and an adjacent bike lane.
Salt Spring, we are working on Fulford to Ganges Hill. It’s still in the design and land acquisition phase, but that will also include widened shoulders. And we’d work closely with the CRD and the Islands Trust on trails improvements, close to…. Rights-of-way — we’re looking at license of occupation for rights-of-way, and, really, I would say, we’re looking at how we can widen shoulders as a best practice.
So I acknowledge that the member wanted to get this on the record. I think it’s a greater conversation and I’d be very happy to have the conversation with the member. But just to give him the reassurance that active transportation and the needs of all communities, whether they are rural, island communities or urban communities, are taken into account when we are looking at our infrastructure — active transportation or traditional road infrastructure.