Merrifield told reporters in St. John’s Monday he’s looking forward to the meeting this afternoon in St. John’s after a trip to Argentia this morning, where he’s expected to make an announcement affecting that port.
“I’m very much looking forward to seeing the port there and making sure that port is being able to spend some of the infrastructure money on shore to facilitate the Atlantic Vision,” he said. The Atlantic Vision is larger than other ferries that have been used on the Newfoundland to North Sydney, N.S., run.
Merrifield described improvements being undertaken at Marine Atlantic as “a work in progress” and said he knows how important the service is for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.
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He said he also plans to talk about some of the progress made when he speaks to the St. John’s Board of Trade today.
Over a five-year period, Merrifield said, “we’re putting a billion dollars into Marine Atlantic. That’s a retrofit right from the ground up, complete with two new vessels,” which he said should alleviate a lot of the capacity problems.
This afternoon won’t be his first meeting with concerned ferry users. Merrifield said he met with them earlier and was told there are two fundamental problems, lack of capacity and lack of on-time reliability.
“The new fleet will address that, the on-shore facilities will address that. Also Marine Atlantic has gone through a complete restructuring of its senior management, so this is a rebuild of Marine Atlantic, and we’re … a ways to go before we actually have that capacity and on-time delivery problem solved,” Merrifield said. “But, I want to meet with them and see if there are ways that we can fine tune the service, so that we can really accommodate the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
“I’m very much looking forward to seeing the port there and making sure that port is being able to spend some of the infrastructure money on shore to facilitate the Atlantic Vision.” - Minister of State for Transport Rob Merrifield
From his experience, Merrifield said, when you put “well-minded people” in the same room with the same information, they usually can come up with a reasonable solution.
He said he’s heard of the complaints from local truckers about a new reservations system introduced by Marine Atlantic. “If there’s something we can do from Transport Canada’s side of it to facilitate the increased time to get those trucks on, we want to do that,” Merrifield said, “so we’re going to be looking at outside the box thinking tomorrow to get us through this situation and get us to a place where we have the on-time and the capacity built into Marine Atlantic’s ability to operate.”
Provincial Transportation Minister Tom Hedderson said he and Tourism Minister Terry French had a meeting with Merrifield in which they raised concerns about Marine Atlantic.
“He responded to us as he responded to the media today in indicating that, obviously, the infrastructure is rolling along as we anticipated, the boats are on schedule and the first one should be here next year, but readily admitted there are capacity problems and it’s a work in progress and that they were following along with their commitment and we’re very pleased to hear that,” Hedderson said.
On the reservation system, Hedderson said, Merrifield told him he would be meeting with the users group, listening to their concerns and continuing to respond in ways that, hopefully, will address that particular situation.