Key Themes From Written Submissions is the header on one page of the latest tome from the government's community-engagement process about the ferry system.
The top-ranked theme is this: "Opposed to service reductions on all routes." It was mentioned 563 times.
So it was a bit awkward for Transportation Minister Todd Stone on Wednesday to release the document at the same time he announced service reductions on all routes.
"Service reductions will affect social fabric/communities and result in depopulation" was another theme.
Didn't seem to matter a whit. The previously announced service reductions are going ahead, social fabric be damned.
They also heard an earful from people opposed to reducing the seniors' discount. Received and filed. The plan to end the free ride for seniors will go ahead as scheduled.
All the key themes, of course, ran heavily against the government plan. But the plan is going to be executed. You rarely hear a government accused of over-consultation, but you wonder if they overdid the public engagement shows that have been running the length of the coast for the past several months.
There was a big round of hearings before the proposed cuts were announced. Then another round trying to gauge reaction to the cuts. Then the cuts were imposed pretty much as announced. It amounts to ignoring people twice, instead of just once.
As a measure of how earnestly all this consultation has been analyzed, the government noted that one of the key themes was skepticism about the consideration of peopleÃs input.
"Participants said they do not believe that B.C. Ferries and the government have considered their previous input and responded to their concerns."
It's more a case of them knowing they were going to catch sustained hell for the cuts, catching the hell, going back and catching some more, but then going ahead with the cuts because they have no other options.
Stone said Wednesday: "None of this should come as a surprise." He's right in more ways than one.
There will be some fine-tuning of some specific sailing cancellations. Yet another round of consultation will start to refine schedules. The government said it will Ã¬take into account the community input received during engagement.Ã®
But nobody can take that too seriously. If the government really took that into account, there wouldnÃt be any cuts.
The most that users of the minor routes can hope for will be retention of early and late sailings by curtailing some mid-day trips.
About the only bone the government will throw to the legions of unhappy customers who made their feelings known after the plan was proposed is a partial fix to make up for the cancellation of the mid-coast Port Hardy to Bella Coola route.
There isn't much talk at this point about more consultation on another round of cuts that are coming on the major routes. B.C. Ferries has whittled $4 million out of the budget with some cuts on the two runs from the Nanaimo area to metro Vancouver, and the Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen runs. But it has to find another $4.9 million in savings on those runs some time between now and April 2016. Analysis will begin soon on developing potential service cuts.
The service reductions on the minor routes have been defended by stressing the absurdly low traffic volumes on selected sailings on some routes. Stone cited sailings in Haida Gwaii and at Bowen Island that average one car per trip, portraying them as classic wastes of money. But the major routes have much more respectable volumes. So curtailing them will be harder to justify.
The one intriguing aspect still to come in the long march to financial sustainability is in customer-service technology. B.C. Ferries' point-of-sale and reservation system is out of date. The consultation showed an appetite for some new features. Huge majorities favour frequent-user discounts and variable pricing for peak and off-peak sailings, something a new system could handle. ThereÃs also a big appetite for early-booking discounts.
That might be the one part of the consultation the government hears.
Les Leyne covers the legislature for the Victoria Times Colonist.