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Report prepared by City of Prince Rupert shows ferry cuts could close businesses

The provincial government hasn't considered a number of vital factors proposed BC Ferries service cuts would have on the North Coast and throughout British Columbia, says a recent study commissioned by the City of Prince Rupert.

"Beyond Hope: BC Ferries and Northern British Columbia" is an overview of economic repercussions the northern route service reduction, recommending any cuts be postponed until 2015 after a comprehensive economic impact assessment is done.

"We've monitored this situation very closely and we're extremely concerned about the implications for the northern economy," said Jack Mussallem, Mayor of Prince Rupert.

"We listened to residents and business owners across Northern B.C. From Haida Gwaii to Valemount and Prince George to 100 Mile House and we found that the impact will be even more severe than we first anticipated. This is not just a coastal issue ... in some of our partner communities the result of these service cuts would be catastrophic."

Prince Rupert city council feels the loss of revenues around the province could exceed the cost of ferry operations, with the report including feedback gathered from northern stakeholders. A major concern repeated in the study was that the full costs the cuts would have on B.C.'s tourism industry isn't being considered. The report says the service reductions made during the 2014 season will have more effect than cuts made with "adequate planning".

In the report, stakeholders discussed how sailing reductions could affect the number of visitors coming to the north coast due to a lack of sailings that line up with their scheduling, which could affect businesses like Breakers Pub in Prince Rupert.

"I would say BC Ferries adds at least 30 per cent to our business in the summer months. When I schedule servers I will add at least one more, if not two, the night before the ferry leaves," read a statement from Breakers Pub within the report.

Prince Rupert's Pineridge Bed and Breakfast provided a similar statement as feedback.

"The main influx of our European clientele arrives during the months of May through August, and we expect an immediate 40 to 60 per cent loss of income if these cuts go through ... we will probably close our business."

"Beyond Hope" says both residents and tourists cite high fares as a deterrent to travel by ferry on the north coast, and management decisions by BC Ferries have created "an unnecessary crisis" threatening to have serious and widespread damage on the economy of the north.

"There is an absence of vision in the management of ferry routes. Cutting a poorly marketed and overpriced service is just bad economics," said Mussallem.

The report also states the proposed northern service reduction would create uncertainty for the global investment community looking to undertake projects in the region, and would lead to "immediate and widespread job loss".

"Beyond Hope" was presented to Todd Stone, B.C.'s Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, which Mussallem said ended in a "positive and encouraging" discussion.

"We advised the Minister that the economic benefits of BC Ferries are not fully understood. Before making changes we need to better understand the direct and indirect benefits of ferry service [in] the B.C. economy," Mussallem said.

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