The Ramea Transportation Committee is calling on the provincial government to ensure the community’s ferry can carry its full capacity during the summer months.
Last summer, the Department of Transportation reduced the crew on the MV Gallipoli from nine to eight. Under Transport Canada regulations, that reduction cuts number of passengers the ferry can legally carry from 99 to 49.
Ramea Transportation Committee chair Reg MacDonald said the province had been proposing even more cuts to the ferry schedule, and a reduction in hours of service.
That was before a face-to-face meeting between the minister and the committee.
“What they were proposing, it just wasn’t acceptable,” said MacDonald.
He said in the end, the government settled on cutting back one crew member.
A spokeswoman for the provincial government said the decision to reduce the crew and passenger capacity on the Gallipoli was based on statistics from 2011 and 2012. Those numbers showed the average crossing carried only 12 passengers and five vehicles.
The reductions were a part of a larger review of provincial fleet operations.
MacDonald says the reduced capacity during the rest of the year is fine, but argues having a 99-passenger capacity in the summer months is important if the community wants to attract tourism.
He said the average tourist doesn’t want to visit a city like St. John’s. They’re looking for the outport and rural Newfoundland experience, which is what Ramea has to offer.
“They came out of a city,” said MacDonald. “They don’t want to go back to one.”
He worries that ongoing ferry troubles across the province and the reduced capacity on the Gallipoli could scare tourists away.
“Newfoundland does not have a good reputation of ferry service to its local communities,” he said. “Our ferries are outdated. A lot of them are 40 or 50 years old and should be obsolete. ... The bottom line is, they need a new fleet of ferries and they need new swing vessels.”
Burgeo-La Poile MHA Andrew Parsons said the committee’s request is not unreasonable.
“They may have black and white numbers about how many people are on the boat, but there’s times when people just don’t go because they don’t think they’re going to get on,” he said.
Parsons said when it comes to tourism, all it takes is one bad story to create a lot of bad press. He pointed to incidents in Fogo this summer as an example.
He said the province has offered to bring an extra crewmember on during planned busy times, such as the Rock Island Festival, but added that it isn’t always possible to know when there will be a sudden spike in traffic. Parsons hopes the new Minister of Transportation, Nick McGrath, will see things differently, and said the committee is willing to negotiate constructively.
“They’re not interested in disputes,” said Parsons.
The government spokeswoman said even with the reduced capacity, the Gallipoli service is in line with the government’s commitment to provide responsible and cost-efficient service delivery to all marine communities in Newfoundland and Labrador.