September 9th, 2020
Letter to Provincial Transportation Minister regarding Bell Island Ferry Service
Derrick Bragg, Minister of Transportation
Department of Transportation and Infrastructure
5th Floor, West Block, Confederation Building
P.O. Box 8700
St. John’s, NL A1B 4J6
I am writing on behalf of constituents who live in the communities of Wabana and Lance Cove on Bell Island concerning their ferry service.
Since last October my office has been answering calls from constituents who use the ferry service. There has been a sense of increasing frustration. The COVID-19 precautions combined with return to work and school has increased the stress of residents.
The Bell Island run is quite different from the other runs on the island portion of the province. It is a commuter service with over 500 people travelling to the St. John’s Metro area on the three morning runs for work and for others heading to Bell Island for their jobs. For many years it has been argued that the efficient and effective operation of such a commuter service requires a separately managed and operated entity to ensure that top priority is given to these needs.
There have been some changes in the past few years which have helped the service: a new vessel, a new terminal, a director of traffic and the reconfiguration of the road to the terminal and dock on the Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s side.
I have spoken with Mayor Gosine, MHA Brazil, and numerous citizens concerned about the service and discussed possible ways forward through this situation. There appears to be agreement that an on-site manager would help alleviate some of the issues. I am advised such a position existed several years ago and I would like to request that your department consider reinstating such a position again. As one example, having an on-site manager can help with issues that habitually occur such as when a breakdown occurs or emergency run take place the ferry schedule can be affected and cause significant delays. Residents need to be able to make decisions based on up-to-date information so they can get home to their families or get to their jobs. An onsite manager can deal with this efficiently. This must be considered as a new position – not the removal or a relocation of a position from the Marine Services division in Lewisporte.
In addition to these ongoing issues, the current ferry captain strike has made the situation even more untenable. I am concerned about reports that commuters have taken rides on personal craft back and forth to Bell Island. The residents in the other communities are under great stress as well.
I certainly hope that your government will encourage both sides back to the bargaining table to negotiate in good faith and make every effort to find a resolution to their current labour strike.
I look forward to a positive response.
Jack Harris, Q.C., M.P., St. John’s East
Cc. Dave Brazil, MHA, Conception Bay East - Bell Island
James Dinn, MHA, St. John’s Centre
Gary Gosine, Mayor, Town of Wabana