Open Letter to the Minister of Transportation – Sharon Small

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Date:       October 12, 2023

To:           The Honourable Rob Fleming, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure

From:       Sharon Small, Denman Island Resident

Subject:   Corporate Hubris Keeps a Failed Cable Ferry Experiment in Service

Dear Honourable Minister Fleming:

Fining B.C. Ferries (BCF) for cancellations due to staffing shortages has given Denman and Hornby islanders hope that you will compel the corporation to decommission the Baynes Sound Connector (BSC). With NDP oversight and CEO Jimenez at the helm, it was shocking to learn that Commissioner Hage, who is charged by the provincial government to oversee BCF, supports the myth that the cable ferry has exceeded corporate expectations. In fact, the cable ferry has been a predictable failure and a product of continuing corporate hubris.

The February 2023 Anderson Review (BCF Denman/Hornby Community Page) provides compelling evidence for decommissioning the BSC for the following reasons:

. Design and systems present unique technical challenges; 

. Mechanical reliability remains a concern;

. Hull fouling causes service speed reductions;

. Maintenance has been higher than anticipated;

. Costs remain above business case estimates;

. Issues remain unresolved.

The review fails to mention that a cable could fall off in winds higher than 39 knots. Should this occur when the vessel is running, BCF instructions are to proceed to dock because it can operate on the two remaining cables. As the BSC is the longest cable ferry in the world, afflicted with continuing mechanical issues, how can BCF possibly be confident that it is safe to proceed in high winds?   

The review also fails to address how islanders feel about being stuck with a failed experiment.  Their anguish, frustration, and mistrust of BCF can be read in the May community engagement summary and online survey comments posted on the Denman and Hornby Community Pages.  Parents of children going to school or participating in activities off island are especially fearful for their safety. They have been stranded overnight when sailings are cancelled due to mechanical failure or when winds exceed 39 knots. If winds rise when the ferry is heading to Buckley Bay, how long would the children be stranded or would the vessel even reach the dock? 

In a letter to Commissioner Hage, I provided a preponderance of evidence confirming that BCF systematically underreported the cable ferry’s performance in annual reports and failed to address islanders’ collective and sustained negative feedback in decision-making. These actions violate both BCF’s Code of Ethics to report accurately and the Coastal Ferry Act to include community feedback in decision-making.

The myth that the cable ferry exceeded corporate expectations began in the October 2015 Ferry Advisory Committee meeting when the ex-CEO passed on the views of the shipbuilder that it had “exceeded expectations, better than expected” (https://youtu.be/o234q_K3XkA?si=Ntu33dfZQjb8JOob). The former CEO predicted that it would save tax payer dollars by requiring fewer staff than conventional vessels; be good for the environment; and provide excellent service.

This myth has been repeated during its seven years of service. For example, in the 2023 Annual Performance Review of the BSC, VP Barabush stated,The BSC and cable ferry system has been a success. The vessel, similar to its predecessor, regularly provides service in excess of the core service levels…”  The Commissioner responded, “Despite an increase in the number of service interruptions recently, the BSC has been successful in providing a higher service level than its predecessor…. It operates on a par with other vessels in the fleet.” 

The expectation of saving money because the cable ferry would require fewer staff than a conventional vessel is questionable given the necessity of hiring more staff to run it and the Kahloke in the summer; to control traffic at terminals; and to fix the frequent mechanical problems. Expert critics speculate that cables have already been replaced around sixteen times at $250,000 a pop. Repeated attempts by the Hornby Ferry Discussion Group to obtain a copy of BSC expenses through freedom of information channels have failed.

In studies of corporate hubris, symptoms include failing to be transparent, altering statistics, and omitting or dismissing facts that expose flaws in the myth. Also, CEOs who make grandiose claims that cannot be delivered, garner support from their executives by handing out bonuses, as did the former CEO. The last stage of the corporate hubris cycle is faltering and falling. This stage is confirmed by the cascading problems facing BCF presently and the firing of the former CEO. To counter the perils of corporate hubris, CEOs are advised to return to providing long term essential service.

It is preposterous, therefore, that stretching the cable ferry to provide more vehicle space was again floated at the last BCF Ferry Advisory meeting. Given the vessel’s service history, how can a mechanically challenged, potentially dangerous, and costly stretched vessel even be imagined? Such a fantasy smacks of continuing corporate hubris when rather than taking a risk, executives play it safe to protect their positions. 

In the Youtube video of the 2015 Ferry Advisory Committee meeting, the ex-CEO dismissed criticism of the cable ferry by exclaiming, “At the end of the day, we are big bad guys and we can take it!”  Perhaps BCF executives can take it, but Denman and Hornby islanders are suffering. We look to the Ministry of Transportation, therefore, to hold BCF accountable to its Mission Statement by providing Route 21 with a reliable and safe conventional ferry that exceeds OUR expectations.

Respectfully, 

Sharon Small

Denman Island Resident