Alaska Marine Highway cuts sailing from Prince Rupert in half for summer season

The Alaska Government is moving forward with plans to cut the number of sailings to and from Prince Rupert in half beginning in July.

The Alaska Government is moving forward with plans to cut the number of sailings to and from Prince Rupert in half beginning in July, despite opposition from Prince Rupert community and business leaders that included a delegation to the state capital earlier this year.

The Taku, one of the vessels servicing the Southeast Alaska region, is being taken out of service for the summer which will cut service to Prince Rupert from four trips per week to two trips per week. Those who have already made reservations for travel are being contacted by the ferry officials.

“With the Taku removed the Matanuska schedule will be the only ship connecting to Prince Rupert. The Matanuska is scheduled to come in on Tuesday and Saturdays,” explained Alaska Marine Highway public information officer Jeremy Woodrow, noting people who do have reservations on the Taku should wait to be contacted by reservation agents rather than trying to rebook their trip.

“We’re trying to move as many passengers from the Taku sailings to the Matanuska and are hoping their schedules are flexible enough to move ahead or back by two days … we won’t know how many passengers are affected by the change until we complete those calls.

The Taku will be undergoing an overhaul that was originally scheduled for this month but was pushed back due to some ships taking longer to maintain when it is pulled out of service in July and it is scheduled to return to service in October. However, Woodrow said that is not entirely certain in light of the $4 billion deficit facing the State Government.

“We will likely see a decrease in the subsidy coming to the Alaska Marine Highway system which will likely result in a reduction in service in the winter and again the following summer. What that means for Prince Rupert we don’t know yet,” he said.

“The reason we made this announcement now is because we knew there was some uncertainty around the summer sailing schedule.”

Scott Farwell of Tourism Prince Rupert, one member of the delegation that travelled to Alaska, said the cuts were “concerning” but not surprising.

“We were hopeful in discussions with Alaska officials during our trip up there that some traffic to Bellingham could be moved to Prince Rupert because it is less costly to travel here, but when big politics get involved the best decisions don’t always rise to the top,” he said, noting Tourism Prince Rupert may focus on attracting regional visitors from the Lower Mainland and along Highway 16.

“I anticipate we will see a drop in the number of passengers and that is going to affect hotels, restaurants, retail and everything … The reality is people using the Alaska Marine Highway system would be in Prince Rupert for one or two days prior to their trip, so I think there will be a significant impact but I hope they can reschedule most of the passengers.”

Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce president Rosa Miller said that group was also disappointed by the announcement.

“After our recent visit to Alaska we better understand the pressure the Alaskan Government is under but are disappointed by the decision to reduce ferry service through the Prince Rupert. Pinching off this key gateway is not good for Prince Rupert and the rest of B.C., but will harm the Alaska Marine Highway System and our neighbours in South East Alaska,” she said.

“The Prince Rupert & District Chamber of Commerce looks forward to working with our Alaska friends and partners in resuming normal ferry sailings.”

In addition to impacts to Prince Rupert tourism, Democratic Juneau Senator Dennis Egan said the loss of sailings will be felt in the state as well.

“The ferry system is the highway for Southeast and coastal Alaska and passenger and vehicle fees are its lifeblood. Because we lack a completed budget, this decision will cost the State of Alaska more than $400,000 of revenue,” he said in a media release.

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