Southside residents are circulating a petition calling upon the provincial transportation ministry to extend the operating hours of the ferry crossing Francois Lake.
The current schedule which begins at 5:30 a.m. from the Southside and ends with a last sailing from the north side of the lake at 11 p.m. limits the ability of people to take part in recreational and cultural activities and hamstrings shift workers and businesses, said Catherine Van Tine Marcinek, one of the petition’s organizers.
“This is not new,” said Van Tine Marcinek of the call for an extended schedule. “This has been growing in the community for years.”
“What we want is for the schedule to be what it was years ago – 20 hours a day.”
The current schedule is also hard to follow because the ferry doesn’t make the 15-minute sailing on the hour or half hour, Van Tine Marcinek added.
“It has times such as 8:50 a.m. or 11:20 a.m. and that’s hard to remember and keep straight,” she said.
The one exception to the regular schedule are sailings to accommodate the school bus schedule.
“These operating hours have been in place for a number of years and balance the cost of delivering the service with the transportation needs of the community and industry in the area,” the transportation ministry said in a prepared statement.
While the MV Francois Forester is owned by a private company and operated by the same company, its operating budget and operating hours are determined by the province. It has the capacity to carry 52 vehicles and 145 passengers.
The annual operating budget is $4 million.
Van Tine Marcinek said the last evening sailing times make it difficult for people to attend recreation and cultural events.
“Whether it’s a movie, an arts council event or something at the high school, people have to rush out before it’s over just to make the sailing,” she said.
“And if you’re travelling from Prince George for example, making that last sailing can be difficult.”
She also said the schedule makes commuting difficult for shift workers as well as for loggers and trucker.
The ferry docks at Southbank after its last sailing of the evening but Van Tine Marcinek said there’s a crew on standby in case of medical or other emergencies.
And should an ambulance be needed during the off hours, the ferry crew will only be notified when the ambulance service is called, Van Tine Marcinek added.
“That wait can be two hours,” she noted.
The transportation ministry said the ferry is available outside operating hours for on-call emergency ferry service within 30 minutes.
The petition has been circulated via social media and in hard copy form for about 10 days and Van Tine Marcinek said the reaction has been positive.
“There’s been a lot of support, people are in favour,” she said.