PenderBlog From The Pender Islands Of Canada

December 4, 2012

A woeful tale in numbers

Filed under: Commentary — Jocko @ 4:07 pm


I think the following is apropos to all of us living on the Outer Gulf Islands, J.M., moderator, PenderBlog

From Paul Brent, Saturna Island Trustee, re: Ferry Rate Hikes

Mayne Presentation (by Paul Brent)

Good evening. I’m speaking in support of the short-link proposal between Mayne and Saturna.

I support the concept because it deals with those early morning and late night deadhead runs, where BC Ferries move near empty vessels, wasting crews and fuel to reposition their vessels from and to Swartz Bay. The Short Link home-ports the vessel on island, ending that wasteful practice.

I support the concept because it doesn’t cut service – it restructures it to be more cost effective, while improving accessibility, our economies and our communities.

I support the concept because it is scalable. By combining a smaller (26 car) ferry, and a short 1.6 nautical mile journey, you can add service to deal with peak demand, by simply adding another ½ hour run.

But I have more to say than support for the short link. I’ll try to do it quickly.

I’m an Island Trustee from Saturna. I’m also a transportation consultant. I’ve worked for a Provincial Transportation Crown, as a VP with BC Rail, until its privatization in 2004. So I know a little about transportation. And a little about our area.

The Islands Trust Act governs our area. It is a Provincial Act. The core of the act is its object, which reads thus –

The object of the Trust is to preserve and protect the Trust Area and its unique amenities and environment for the benefit of the residents of the Trust Area and of British Columbia generally….

Preserve, protect. Unique amenities. For the benefit of residents and British Columbia. Impressive words.

But we are at a crisis in preserving and protecting those residents, and their unique amenities. We are being told it’s a crisis, as we can’t afford the transportation costs to serve those islands.

I’m here to tell you this crisis is a manufactured one. This same government mandating we be protected, has manufactured the crisis threatening our communities, its resident, and its unique amenities. It is a made in BC crisis, through a policy of discrimination regarding basic transportation to coastal communities. It is called the Coastal Ferry Act.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. This is the setup. We’re talking about finding $26 million over three years. But the consultation materials point to $564 million funding gap in the following 8 years.

And the province has known this for decades. The Wright Report in 2001, identified an aging fleet, aggravated by the $500 million fast ferries failure, as the fiscal cliff facing government. That report showed that BC Ferries fleet had not been replaced, with the average vessel age going from 12 years in 1982 to 28 years in 2001.

So the provincial government’s solution; the 2003 Coastal Ferry Act, frozen provincial funding, and placing the burden of dealing with under-funding vessel replacements, including the failure of the Fast Cats, on ferry users.


Did our government really establish a discriminatory policy, which treats our basic transportation links in a manner totally dissimilar to every other region in BC? Where we pay not only operating costs, but contribute to capital replacement costs. Especially those costs from decades of government underfunding.

Did it work? Well, Ferries bought half a dozen new vessels – having bought just one in the decade prior to 2003.

Well, financing and amortization costs went through the roof – up over fourfold – $150 million per year more this year than in 2003. Fares up 80% – and revenues from fare increases over $650 million. But still not enough.

Today the average fleet age is 31 years. So that fiscal cliff is even bigger. And on the minor routes – the average age is 37 years

So the Coastal Ferry Act, despite its punitive nature, didn’t solve years of government underfunding. Isn’t this really our fault, as these consultation materials infer. Lets look.

We all know that the province subsidizes roads – and in most cases at 100%. They fund capital, and they fund operating costs.

$800 million for the highway to Whistler.

$250 million replacing the Pitt River Bridge

South Fraser Perimeter road estimated at $1.2 billion

Kicking Horse Pass upgrades $ over a billion in tandem with the feds

$100 million for the new Kelowna Bridge

$100 million for Lion’s Gate refit

And all 14 of our inland ferries are free. Yes, fully 100% subsidized by taxpayers.

Even the $3.3 billion for Port Mann Bridge Highway 1 has $150 million in provincial subsidy that won’t be repaid with tolls – and the ultimate risk for the project – lies with the government. Taxpayers. You and me.

But that’s not all. The province subsidizes more. They subsidize transit.

In 2008, as part of its provincial Transit Plan, the province committed to 4.75 BILLION in new transit subsidies to 2020.

And we can all agree, basic transit is a good thing, right. But there is no BC Transit on Mayne, or Saturna, or Galiano, or North Pender, or South Pender. So no, we don’t see any of that subsidy either. Passenger ferries and no transit. Really?

At BC Transit, the province has increased its subsidy by over 93% since 2004. And for BC Ferries, they’ve kept their subsidy fixed for the same period.

Those same BC Transit users & advertising pays 33% of the cost of their ride, taxpayers subsidize the rest. And those folks choose to live where they do, be it Whistler or Williams Lake, just as we do.

But instead, we ferry users pay 75% of all ferry costs, more than three times their rate. And most importantly, we users cover all of ferry’s operating costs.

At Translink, the Lower Mainland’s transit service provider, which the province subsidizes, users pay less than 40% of total Translink cost.

Have their fares grown like BC Ferries. No. Why? Because their fare increases are limited. Yup, limited by PROVINCIAL legislation – the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Act Section 197(1) of the Act sets Translink’s annual fare increase at a targeted rate less than 2%. If that sounds totally opposite to our Coastal Ferry Act PROVINCIAL legislation, well, that is because it is.

You’ll hear that Translink is funded by regional fuel tax, property tax and parking tax. Well, 60% of those fuel taxes come from the province, a couple of hundred million annually. Oh, and then there are the grants.

Evergreen Line – provincial government will contribute $583 million

Canada Line – The province of BC contributed $425 million

Millennium Line – The province of British Columbia contributed $435 million

And the millions of provincial contributions to the original Expo line

Even the fare gate installations at Translink’s rapid transit stations are getting a $40 million provincial subsidy.

So there is a whole bunch of money – billions in fact for basic transportation services, all funded by the province and all to support users who pay nothing close to what ferry users do.

So the province bailed on us. How about BC Ferries? BC Ferries costs have risen by 50% since the Coastal Ferry Act came into force.

In 2008/2009 ferries had 3,620 FTE’s, an increase of 675 full time employees over 1992. A 23% increase. To handle the same number of vehicles and passengers.

But to be fair, BC Ferries added 2 new routes, Duke Point/Tsawwassen and the Discovery Coast Tour. The Duke Point/Tsawwassen run loses $30 million per year. Last year it handled 600,000 vehicles, yet the other two major runs that bracket it had 1,500,000 vehicles in unused capacity. Brilliant! The commercial trucking association must have one hell of a lobby group in Victoria.

And Route 40, the Discovery Coast tour, handled 2,000 vehicles last year, sailing only in the summer – BC Ferries bills it as a “soft adventure tour”. It loses $4 million per year. With 80% fare increase since 2003, is it a surprise that it now handles 40% less traffic, and its loss has more than doubled? And you know what? It serves pretty much the same communities as Route 10.

Brilliant! Lets add two duplicate routes, add hundreds of new employees, and use up scarce vessels, so we can lose whopping more money to which we’ll blame on users.

Yes – providing basic transportation is expensive, and virtually all transportation and transit systems receive government funding. Most can’t even dream of users covering all of the operating costs, as we do at ferries. BC transportation users, including all of us served by coastal ferries, are as deserving as anyone, whether they choose to live in Whistler, Langley, Williams Lake or on Mayne Island.

Don’t let anyone in the provincial government tell you otherwise.

October 24, 2012

Where do I go, if not with you?

Filed under: Commentary — Jocko @ 7:31 pm

Hi All you PenderBlog devotees (an overstatement maybe?),

As you may have noticed, I have not posted a lot in the past year.  I started PenderBlog back in 2007, yikes, 5 years… poof!  And I have learned a lot in the process, what worked, what didn’t.  It’s a big world out there and everyone is watching.  But it has been fun, and isn’t that the point of almost everything we should be doing with the short time we get on this crazy planet.

Five years ago I had barely heard of a blog and what they were for.  Now, as someone said to me, “Everybody has a blog”.

My original concept, however, was different.  PenderBlog was hopefully going to be Pender Island’s blog, not mine. Trust me, I don’t have enough interesting things to post every week, but collectively Pender Island does.

Of course there are so many avenues of expression out there today, but I have been a bit surprised by the loyalty the subscribers to the PenderBlog have been.  PenderBlog has a facebook page and many friends now carry the flow of island observations through PenderBlog on facebook.

So, at the risk of being too wordy here, I would like to keep the PenderBlog going, but encourage any of you dear readers to make a submission if the urge comes along.  I will volunteer to be your lowly moderator.

Now that it’s dark outside, maybe I’ll even muster up a few new posts!

Thanks for the five years and happy Hallowe’en.

John Mackenzie, PenderBlog

April 16, 2010

Pilot project redux…

Filed under: Commentary — Jocko @ 8:29 pm

Re: Pender Island Woody Debris and Yard Brush Drop-off Event Pilot Project

A pilot project to follow up the pilot project.

From Mike Aston:

I’ve mulled this one over for a little while. It’s a nice idea in principle, but do I recall a recent attempt at a similar thing, which overwhelmed the CRD not so long ago? That particular pilot project was free to the public (although paid for from taxes), and yard waste was collected from the curbside, which is much more convenient. However, the chipper broke, then the yard waste sat by the roadside for weeks, before eventually being cleared up. The scheme appeared to have dealt with the yard waste in the end, but I imagine it was likely a financial disaster and therefore not particularly viable for a small, spread-out community.

This latest reincarnation of the chipper project, on the other hand, will cost people to use (between $5 and $20, depending on vehicle In addition to our taxes), so this might have an effect on its popularity. This time, any waste will need to be delivered to the CRD designated site. I think this is likely to lead to a neutral, or perhaps even negative, environmental impact when fossil fuel use, pollution, additional road use and hazards are taken into account.

The best route, in my opinion, is for yard waste to be dealt with on site, at source: Keep it local, compost it; salvage wood for heating/energy. Dry and burn any remaining invasive waste. This, of course, must be done safely and responsibly. A small hot fire in a suitable incinerator can work wonders while producing very little smoke. Additionally, the subsequent ash can be used as a fertilizer, natural pesticide or soil supplement in many cases (although not for acid-loving plants or potatoes).

I cannot understand why (in the words of the CRD “press release” email circulated to interested parties):

“It’s  that the CRD gets a good turn-out for BOTH days of the event so it can be established as a regular occurance on Pender and the other SGI communities.”

I wonder why it is “critically important”. Sounds like this ‘pilot project’ has already been deemed too important to fail, regardless of how successful it is. Call me cynical, but is this a prelude to being able to introduce a burning ban? This issue has surfaced before, but went away after public rumblings.
Burning is one of the most natural ways to control and regenerate. Wood-fires and domestic yard-waste burning are a drop in the ocean, emissions-wise, compared to the tens of thousands of natural wild-fires each year all over the world. So please don’t ban burning, but by all means try to improve it, restrict it at dangerous times of the year, promote the use of better incinerators, better safety, better education (or is it that we simply can’t be trusted?)

If indeed there is a poor turnout at this chipper event, then that would suggest it might not be needed, or that the cost is unreasonable. Knowing that is “critically important”, and at that point only can a decision about the project’s future be made because taxpayer’s money is being spent. However, if the chipper event is a resounding success, cost-neutral to the tax-payer and doesn’t preface a burning ban, then it will get my congratulations and full support.

Then I guess I’ll have to eat my hat as well!

Visit Mike Aston’s blog for more insights at:

January 5, 2010

Hitchhike hand signals: a guide for drivers

Filed under: Commentary — Jocko @ 5:22 pm

Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper reporter Amy Geddes answers questions about anything related to life on British Columbia’s Gulf Islands.  Here’s one of the latest:

Q. Because I live off a road fairly close to town, I’ve always wondered, what is the proper signal to give to the hitchhikers waiting by Embe Bakery, to let them know I am only travelling a short distance (and not going to Fulford)? Usually I gesture with my thumb and first finger, indicating a small amount, hoping they’ll understand I’m not ignoring them . . . but is this understood by most? – Meghan Howcroft, Salt Spring Island

For the answer, go to

E-mail your questions to

I have noticed on Pender, some people prefer good old-fashioned hitchhiking, instead of waiting at Car Stops – Jocko.

January 1, 2010

Cellphone driving regulations changed…

Filed under: Commentary — Jocko @ 2:32 pm

One thing that distinguishes Gulf Islands residents from their city counterparts is the lack of reliance on mobile communications devices.

In many areas, a lack of solid reception makes cellphone communication either unreliable or frustrating, so we’re less likely to pull out the cell when it really isn’t necessary.

But even if most islanders’ ears and thumbs aren’t in constant contact with their hand-held phones as they talk or text, many people have become accustomed to holding a phone in one hand and a steering wheel in another.

Changes to the province’s Motor Vehicle Act will result in a ban on that activity beginning Friday, Jan. 1.

For the full story go to

June 12, 2009

Pender Island… the LIVELY island?

Filed under: Commentary — Jocko @ 12:49 am

I have lived on Pender for 14 years now, and during those years, have thought to myself occasionally, if I didn’t live here, where else would I live?  There are so many wonderful people who live here, and yet so many things that could make this island a better place to live.

I am always on the lookout for ways to improve life on Pender.  Not just drive by waves, which, by the way, are great, but basic, long term quality-of-life efforts each of us can make.  A dwellers mindset perhaps.  Pender… not just a temporary escape from the increasingly cramped world we live in, but a sustainable part of the real world.

How will we live on this island in future years?  We all have to face the realities of today’s and tommorow’s world.  The air appears less clear every year, the noise around us builds, and the costs mount.

I’m not a leader by nature, but I propose something like “Green Neighbourhood Meetings”, maybe quarterly, to discuss and make public, ideas about how we could navigate our island’s future without political rhetoric or incumberace.  Small town style, local get togethers –  around a glass of wine, tea, or whatever, to take control of what we have and what we want to be.  Let’s get it… together.  – Jocko

January 25, 2009

Do you love what you feel?

Filed under: Commentary — Jocko @ 7:35 pm


I was thinking lately, about what makes life on Pender unique.  Could it be the climate, the scenery, the wide variety of people with a common desire to be islanders…?  All of the above and more, with the result being exhilarating at times, sometimes frustrating, but certainly not dull.  As a little experiment, I’m sure I can get a few pulses quickening, hearts glowing or even a chuckle by merely drawing up a list of past issues, observations and institutions.  See if you don’t feel a little more alive after reading this somewhat random list:

Short Term Vacation Rentals (STVR’s); Senior’s Village at the Driftwood proposal; clearcut on Hoosen Road; derelict car(s) in your neighbour’s yard; “I was swerving to avoid a deer” excuse; development permits; cutting over the yellow line on corners; the forth power outage in a week; noisy weed wackers; mountain bike park proposal; waving at strangers; potholes; installation of water meters in Magic Lake; beach cleanup day; swimming pool proposal; juicy rumours; bottle drive; time share developments; Kareoke Night at Browning; Community Hall funding; Official Community Plan (OCP) revisions; that ugly truck that burns oil and needs a muffler; Car Stops; eagle tree; the Fall Fair; wood smoke; broom bashing; the Medical Centre; the Pender Library; the Nu-To-Yu; Meals on Wheels; the Legion; the Pender Post; etc.

Now how do you feel?  For me, I feel lucky to be a Pender Islander because of our idiosyncracies, talents, opinions and accomplishments.  As do many others, I will, in my own small way, try to make this unique island even better!

September 27, 2008

Squeaky wheels…

Filed under: Commentary — Jocko @ 1:53 pm

News item:  The Globe and Mail, Sep. 27, 2008 –

Campbell quashes tolls on Coquihalla Highway

Premier Gordon Campbell sent British Columbia’s mayors home from a week-long conference with a small gift – cancelling the 22-year-old toll on the Coquihalla Highway just before many of them piled into their cars to head home past the tollbooths.

Oh, yes, and ferry fares are going up.

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