Feds to hear ferry users' concerns

Deana Stokes Sullivan
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Announcement also expected today in Argentia

Problems with the Marine Atlantic ferry service will be aired this afternoon when Minister of State for Transport Rob Merrifield meets with representatives of the Crown corporation and a group of ferry users.

Minister of State (Transportation) Rob Merrifield (right) and MHA Tom Hedderson discuss concerns over Marine Atlantic service Monday. Merrifield is due to meet with company officials and a ferry users group today. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

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.

 

dss@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Marine Atlantic, Board of Trade, Transport Canada

Geographic location: Argentia, Newfoundland and Labrador, North Sydney

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Recent comments

  • Robert J Gaudet
    August 13, 2010 - 09:05

    I was just wondering if there is anyone else who may be tired of listening to the same people complain over & over again about this issue. It is said there are people who would complain if they won lotto 649 that they had to leave the province to claim the prize. I have been in the marine industry for over 30 years and delays in this business is a way of life, be it mechanical break down, bad weather, ice conditions, Transport Canada regulations, vessel repairs, loading & unloading of the vessels between crossings, irate passengers, loading of fuel / stores, waiting for spare parts to arrive, cleaning the vessels for the passenger arrival, safety concerns, the list goes on & on, so I ask, if there is a person out there with all the answers, could they please come forward, because short of an act of God I see no solutions to the majority of these delays, if sailing the vessel in a force 10 gale is what you are looking for I have no problem with this, I have my sea legs. The problem here is Marine Atlantic is in the people moving business & unfortunately you cannot please everyone no matter how hard you try. We seldom hear of the efforts put forward by the company and crews of these vessels, these people are front line soldiers who have to put up with these complaints as if it were there fault, perhaps we should remember this, these people do go above & beyond the call of duty at all times.

  • Frank Blackwood
    August 10, 2010 - 10:52

    There will never be an efficent service across the gulf until the company changes their policy of big bucks first, and people next. People are loaded aboard the ferry like cattle, and the fumes coming from the autombiles is deadly. Then ,try to tell that to someone who had a miserable trip across the gulf and will never appreciate any kind of kindness or respect for the well being of other passengers.There needs to be a system where autombile fumes are not exposed so much, especially for children. It's not the employees as they are the best you can meet anywhere worldwide. The big CEO behind the desk is overwhelmed as well with lack of concern from his big bosses who may just be out playing golf when there is a major problem in Port Aux Basque. Travel time should be fun time, not a period of stress and trauma for people who want to have good memories about their trip to Newfoundland and Labrador, and to Nova Scotia as well. Frank Blackwood Richmond Hill, Ont.

  • Rick
    August 10, 2010 - 10:07

    Are we that naive to believe that the federal Cons are actually going to put $ 1 billion into a NL ferry system. He didn't take the ferry across from upper Canada, he flew. Wake up fellow Newfoundlanders Labradorians, there is an election on the horizon, and right now the Cons are so desperate for seats to be able to win yet another minority; yes, minority, they are after the measely 7 fed seats in NL. Note, the $ WILL BE in action in the Spring of 2011; election finished, money gone, no ferry upgrade.

  • Don
    August 10, 2010 - 09:53

    I suggest that for the next 6 months that all politicians coming to or leaving from Newfoundland and Labrador including the Premier and the Prime Minister be required to travel on the Marine Atlantic Ferry service without using any cabin accommodations. I suspect that after these politicians have their travel plans delayed due to mechanical breakdowns, stormy weather and other delays and have to sleep in their cars in the terminal parking lot or in very unsanitary and uncomfortable seats or bunks on the Ferry and have to pay exorbitant prices for their meals and cannot take a shower and do not have a private place to sleep they will be more inclined to listen and to take action. These politicians are accustomed to first class travel and as such the Marine Atlantic Ferry will be a reality check experience for them. Any takers?

  • Frank M
    August 10, 2010 - 08:43

    The question which needs to be asked is why can other jurisdictions and their ferry services run efficiently (English Channel or Macao - Hong Kong) and Canada cannot?

  • Did he fly
    August 10, 2010 - 07:21

    I bet he did not take the ferry here. After all....he did get here on time. If he wanted to see how bad the service was he should have drove here like all the people complaining about the service. On a side note......I am not too thrilled about the new layout of your website. It also is not Google Chrome friendly.

  • Greg
    August 10, 2010 - 06:44

    Minister of the "state" of transportation in town to blow his own horn. This service is the poorest in Canada. Leasing other country's crap so we can limp across the Atlantic....(when in fact they can limp). Well done Ottawa you are an example in business management that should not go unrewarded. Fixed link before ferry disaster headline