Consultations begin for new commercial reservation system

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Josh Pennell
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Marine Atlantic talking to stakeholders

Stakeholder consultation sessions have begun with Marine Atlantic to look at the possibility of creating a new commercial reservation system for the ferry service.

The Marine Atlantic ferry Atlantic Vision is shown inSt. John’s harbour. Marine Atlantic is consulting with commercial users of the service to look at how it can create a better way to book passage to ship products to Newfoundland and Labrador.
—Wikipedia file photo

In the fall of 2010, Marine Atlantic suspended its commercial reservation service citing the reliability and lack of capacity of older vessels, and a general lack of capacity, causing problems for commercial customers.

On Monday, the first consultation regarding a new system took place.

“The sessions are being conducted from an information gathering perspective and involves key players from the commercial and retail sectors.

“The goal is to identify the various needs of our customers from all sectors to determine what processes can be put in place to best manage and move traffic to meet customer needs,” Marine Atlantic’s Darrell Mercer said.

Jim Cormier, director in Atlantic Canada for the Retail Council of Canada (RCC), says the RCC has been working with Marine Atlantic over many years to find ways to improve the ability of its member companies to ship product to Newfoundland and Labrador.

The RCC represents 45,000 stores across the country, ranging in size from small independent retailers to international companies.

Cormier told The Telegram in November there were few, if any, who liked the old system, but the RCC also felt that having none at all was a bad move.

“Even with the new ferries and the increased capacity, there are still far too many occasions where retailers are having problems getting their products into their stores in Newfoundland and Labrador. Weather is the cause for many of these delays, but the lack of a commercial reservation system causes huge issues following the weather delays,” Cormier told The Telegram in an email.

Some of the problems with the old system, according to Cormier, were that bigger companies could book up all of the commercial space; the old commercial system was not honoured following weather delays; and payment for service was required to be made up front, which caused cash-flow problems even for larger businesses.

The RCC is making a number of recommendations for the commercial reservation system during the consultation, including the following:

• Clearly state the number of commercial reservations that a company is allowed to make on any given sailing.

• Levy penalties for companies who overbook.

• Be web based. Regular customers should have their own web account from which they can make bookings/change bookings within the allotted time frames set by Marine Atlantic.

• Always honour the commercial bookings, even if Marine Atlantic falls behind schedule.

• Provide flexibility for commercial customers following significant delays in Marine Atlantic service.

• Continue to offer the current payment terms of 30 days from the date of crossing.

• Do not charge a penalty for cancelling a commercial booking with 12 hours’ notice.

• Allow reservations to be made up to 12 hours prior to sailing.

• Allow a small percentage of space to be left open for commercial traffic without a commercial reservation.

Marine Atlantic wouldn’t comment on any of these recommendations. In fact, they’ve hired a third party to represent them at the consultations. Mercer said Monday’s was the first of several that will take place over the coming weeks.

Organizations: Marine Atlantic, Retail Council of Canada, The Telegram

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Atlantic Canada

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  • Duane McCarthy
    January 11, 2014 - 14:25

    Commercial reservations are not for small businesses or the independent operator. As everyone knows that they failed before because of abuse and capacity issues. We now have the capacity that we need, all we need is for Marine Atlantic to provide a service and sail the ships. After the reservations were stopped I never missed a ship for a year and a half. Only when M A decided to cut crossings from the schedule did the wait times start again. M A can double and triple book regular traffic and only take a dozen or so trucks. However, if there were a set number of trucks say Thirty, on these crossings that are caused by wind delays and limit the regular traffic to two sailings the traffic would be cleared that much quicker. Also use the Leif Erickson for its intended use, commercial only, drops, dangerous and wide loads that cannot get on the big ships. By restricting the big ships to only a dozen trucks when the Leif should be used and not tied up would also take pressure off of the wait times. All in all we do not need reservations, however we do need Marine Atlantic to sail the ships and provide a service to all users.