Board of Trade to seek answers to questions on Marine Atlantic

Diane Crocker
Published on June 21, 2014
Rita Gillard, general manager of the Comfort Inn, was among 15 people to attend a roundtable on Marine Atlantic hosted by the Greater Corner Brook Board of Trade at the Greenwood Inn on Friday.
Star photo by Diane Crocker

The Greater Corner Brook Board of Trade has a few questions that it plans to pose to Marine Atlantic.

The board hosted a roundtable discussion on recent changes the Crown corporation has made to its schedule to find out the impact, if any, that was having on members at the Greenwood Inn and Suites on Friday.

About 15 people participated in the discussion that was led by first vice-president Sharon McLennon.

As she went around the table concerns over the service, from the reliability and cost, to the right vessels for the run, the delays in receiving goods and the impact on consumers, came up more than once.

Marvin Way, general manager of Armour Transportation Services, said when it comes to delays in the service there’s a major expense in having 50 trucks parked.

When asked to put a dollar figure on the cost of waiting, he said it could be from $60 to $100 an hour and his company could easily lose $1,000 a day.

Outside of that, Way said, “you’ve got product that’s not getting to market probably in some cases.” He said the shipper’s role often becomes one of customer service as they have to be changing appointments and booking new reservations. He said it’s the nature of the business.

“We accept it almost as normal, boats are fooled up, you’ve got to wait a day or two.”

Later, Way said Marine Atlantic needs to fix what’s broken in regards to getting the volumes through and suggested boats dedicated to either commercial or passenger service are needed.

Rita Gillard, general manager of the Comfort Inn, said she’s seen the impact of troubles with the service in more than just lost revenue from travellers cancelling.

In January, she said the company had a crew renovating the hotel waiting for five days for materials that were stuck in North Sydney.

“It’s not a new issue for right now,” she said.

But from the perspective of a business tied to tourism, she also concerned about how less crossings will impact the hotel.

Gillard also asked if Marine Atlantic tracks denials. “If people are calling and not being able to book, then are you tracking why they didn’t book.”

She said this is information that should be shared with tourism operators.

Like others at the table, Gillard questioned the cost of the service.

“It’s our highway supposedly,” she said before calling it “a very expensive toll gate.”

Businesswoman Donna Thistle noted that she felt the west coast area seems to be a bit depressed lately and questioned if Marine Atlantic was “reacting to or causing the problem.”

Thistle said the province needs to get more involved and even suggested a subsidy for travellers to help offset the cost.

Christian Gillis is the buyer in the flooring division of Steers Group Ltd. He told the group that there are always projects held up as his company waits for product.

“All these delays are very crucial.”

Gillis said there’s no doubt this past winter was a rough one. He said from January to April Marine Atlantic cancelled crossings 23 times, some of which were due to storms.

“But it comes back down to inadequate equipment that they’re using with those vessels. Because sometimes the winds aren’t actually that bad, but because of the size and the space that they have to get into, they just can’t get in there.”

The group also sought some clarity over what is meant by the link between Newfoundland and the Mainland being a constitutionally guaranteed service.

In the end McLennon posed to those present that some answers to their questions are needed and suggested it start with a letter that would not only invite those answers but also invite Marine Atlantic to meet with the board to discuss them.