Thursday, 16 July 2015

CHANGE FERRY NAME FROM ‘APOLLO’ TO ‘APPALLING’

Apollo reserves a place, in both Greek and Roman mythology, as the god of music, art, beauty, light, and knowledge.

But there is nothing artful, pleasant, or beautiful about the Apollo, the aged and ill-kept ferry so named, plying the Straits of Belle Isle several times a day between St. Barbe and Blanc Sablon.

As my vehicle crossed over the dock into the vessel, I spied licence plates announcing Texas, New Hampshire, Ontario, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador. A little later, I was given to wonder what their owners were thinking.

While bemusement seemed adequate enough at first, the walk from the car park through the doorway onto several flights of stairs, leading to the reception area, gave even this reluctant tourist fair warning that any expectation of relaxation within pleasant, comfortable, clean, and modern surroundings, might be excessive.

A time warp had been entered.

Placed into service in the early 1970s the Apollo still exhibits the décor of that earlier time and bears all the wear and tear, too.

Dated is one thing; but when datedness is joined, as is often the case, with its cousin, dirt, it is hard to differentiate the two. 

No such confusion endured in the men’s bathroom where the floors and the walls were not clean and where the uncovered refuse containers sat exposed between the sinks, within the same cabinet; the Scandinavian standard of the 1960s and 70s now, for some unapparent reason, thought suitable to the Newfoundland and Labrador of 2015.

The shiny wad of pink bubble gum that was pressed into a stile above the urinal, as if an adornment, seemed out of place even amidst the surrounding squalor. 

It was time to find a seat, a place to view the fast moving water of the Straits, catch a short nap, and talk about the possibilities for a salmon or two with an old friend. Exiting the washroom, the deep blue (or was it purple?) carpet brought back memories of my early entry into the construction business and the yards of “high pile” that made its way to the City dump.

The “Reception” area is where travelers hang out for the one and one-half hour crossing.    I had planned to join my friend in the same row but his look of alarm telegraphed warning, deterring my derriere from entering the concave seat; the collapsed foam offered a depression large enough to engulf one far more rotund. Across the aisle, the back would not stay vertical on another chair. Like the carpeting, the fabric covering all the chairs looked not just dated but unclean; the condition did not seem to be a recent manifestation. 

Having secured a seat in the row behind my fellow tourist and robbed of conversation, I had time to conduct a much wider inspection of the physical assets on which I knew some part of the public purse is spent.

The T-Bar ceiling and walls seemed original to the structure; the laminate that cased the window wells was frequently chipped.  Several windows were replaced; but no one had bothered to paint the lower rail area left uncovered by the narrower mouldings of the more recent inserts. 

I did not bother to visit the cafeteria though my friend, who had a look, decided he could wait.

Cleanliness is all too often a hit and miss affair in public places, though the laxity of management’s stewardship on the vessel was confirmed upon my return crossing, four days later.  The same pink bubble gum located on the wall above the urinal, noticed during the first crossing, had not warranted the janitor’s attention. 

I had some time to think about the millions of dollars the government has invested in a world class marketing program to attract tourists to the Province. Many of them must have thought that the money could be better spent.

They might have thought, too, that our government can’t write standards of either repair or of cleanliness into a long term multi-million dollar tender.

And, if such low standards were thought adequate within a space where passengers relax and eat, what might be lurking in the engine room?

Of the Labrador residents for whom the ferry is a vital service, how could anyone have concluded other than that both the government and the operator believe: “that’s all you deserve”!

In contrast, there was nothing about the ferry the people at Labrador Tours copied.  They promised a world class fishing trip, enhanced with kayaking and hiking, if I chose. No small promise. But they delivered. The accommodations at the historic lighthouse site at Point Amour, managed by them, were spotless; the staff were always professional; the food would have made Carl Wells salivate.  

By comparison, any expectations of a trip aboard a ferry boat are minimal at the best of times. But is it too much to expect that such an essential service, linking visitors and their first impressions of relatively unspoiled Labrador, might, at least be, if not modern then uncompromisingly clean? Is such a modest expectation really unattainable? 

Of course, new and modern is no guarantee of cleanliness anyway.

Besides, whether it is performed well or poorly, isn't the cost of 'clean' the same?

Isn't the state of the Apollo Ferry actually about the competence of management, including the government that pays the ferry contract?

Recently, the Minister of Transportation and Works scuppered plans for “an enhanced and long-term ferry service contract for Labrador”. The implication is: don’t expect anything to change.

That would be a mistake.  The Minister can and should do more.

As a priority, he and the Minister responsible for tourism should pay the Apollo a visit.

They will want to take along some sunlight soap, an entire marine grade interior for the reception area, including carpet and seating.

The Minister of Transportation and Works should also let someone who understands ‘maintenance’ and ‘cleanliness’ write the next ferry contract.

Inspections are an integral part of any due diligence test of service delivery; benchmarks of performance, together with a history of persist failure to perform, make them relevant and necessary. Otherwise, the result is exactly what, reportedly, the public faces on that crossing, day in day out. 

Until people, their taxes, or just their tourism value are treated seriously by public servants, by contractors, by politicians, the name Apollo will be synonymous with insult. 

Rather than boast even a few of the strengths of the Greek and Roman god, it will merely serve as another metaphor for incompetence and neglect. 

9 comments:

  1. Not having done the trip and actually planning if for summer 2016, I am now certain that I will not take that route as I know that it will not have changed any by then. If it has been let go for so many years what is another year of bad service and filth for the populous? Apparently, those who travel that route are not worthy of better, according those who run it and the government who should be overseeing it. It is hard to believe that with the years of fabulous tourism marketing, that no one actually made the crossing to see for themselves what they are selling. This is tax payers money going to pay for less than sub-standard services. Where is competition? Where is the thought?

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    1. Don't let that deter you from a great trip to Labrador.. it won't kill you and it not that bad to handle for 1.5hr trip.... been on worse modes of transportation..

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    2. That is not the point. We don´t live in a 3rd world country. It is called a 1st world country for a reason. I don´t expect that standard of service and uncleanliness here. You are right, there are "worse modes of transportation", however, that attitude just keeps things as they are.

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  2. Well said! Our family lived in the Labrador Straits for more than 30 years and we have always volunteered on one committee or another to improved and assist in our community. There is only so much one can do when your voice is not heard! The people of Labrador have identified over and over that they need improvements made to this Ferry/ Crossing yet Government has continued to turn their backs on these TAX Payers. This crossing is the highway link between Labrador and Newfoundland. It is there to not only serve the residence but everyone who wishes to visit the beautiful land of Labrador. The ferry if nothing else MUST be kept clean! This is an embarrassment to our Province....... Hopefully the politicians who we elect will take a stand on improved ferry services and the Labrador highway that our loved ones have to travel daily through ALL OF LABRADOR .

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  3. Bell Island is more worthy of new ferry,then the people of Labrador.Bell Island contributes little or nothing to the economy.Its a suburb of St.John's

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  4. Done the Labrador coast about 8 years ago. Fairly expensive, from Nain to Goose Bay, the service was run by Woodwards. It was early October. The food was poor, and it was explained that they do not permit taking water to drink to your room, but bent the rule on that. The room was cold and they had no spare blankets. The thermostat did not work, you could set it higher but it made no difference. There were no facecloths. it was explained that they can't keep them available as the "natives" steal them. The vessel was general shabby. I wondered how they expected to attract tourists. But I guess the idea is not to attract tourists..... the conditions of coastal Labrador is shameful due to neglect of our government. I intended to write Woodfords and offer them free facecloths, as they were available here at 4 for a dollar. Pity, as the people of the coast are so wonderful, and too quiet to put up with this. Example ; heat the houses and factories from Nova Scotia to new York with cheap Labrador hydro power, while coastal Labrador are on expensive diesel! Winston Adams

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  5. The condition of the Apollo is the equivalent of the Soviet era State Owned Enterprises (SOEs). There is no incentive or motivation to put in the extra effort or even adequate effort. The most important aspect for the management and crew is to get salted away with the job in the first place which often occurs through political connections and basic certifications after the fact. Job one for the owner is to make sure all the right moves are made to work the system at the political level to keep the contract. The actual service itself is farthest from their minds. It is “unNewfoundland” to actually complain that something isn’t right and this compounds the problem.

    Marine Atlantic does a better job at cleanliness because they do receive complaints and are more in the visible eye as such a vital link to the Mainland. Marine Atlantic’s solution is to load up on personnel and direct the complaints in turn to the Federal Government to seek more operational and new vessel funds. This has the added benefit of being a Federal responsibility so the whole populace can get behind the request for ever more money. One of the serious problems is that the fares have to cover a proportion of the costs and they have now reached the point of being unaffordable or practical for a family unless the trip is considered as a “cruise” or rare adventure. It is cheaper for a family of four to get an airline seat sale to Halifax and then a car rental for up to two weeks than pay to go return on the Argentia ferry and that is not even including the gas, the restaurant costs or the lost time. It is just the fares for the ferry.

    The solution is to make all services as competitive as possible such as Uncle Gnarley observed in the price and service at his destination in Labrador. Public / private partnerships are sometimes worse that SOEs if they are delivered as a monopoly. Consider that Air Canada could and did make a passionate argument that they needed a monopoly into St. John’s and Newfoundland Telephone (Alliant) made a similar argument for telecommunications services. Where would we be in both cases if both of these private enterprises had a monopoly?

    This brings me to our largest damage from SOEs, Nalcor which was reported on this blog previously :Bureaucrats Masquerading as Entrepreneurs". Who else on the planet is borrowing and spending $8.3 Billion and climbing on 660 Megawatts of electricity ($12.6 M per MW which is five to six times the turnkey cost of wind depending upon location). Who else would boast in the media about helping a US state achieve its greenhouse gas emissions when it is done so at about an 80% subsidy from the Newfoundland ratepayer at current market rates in the US. The US has a better opportunity to save the planet through charging the incremental rates for electricity that we will be charged and watch the energy conservation and alternate energy industries take charge. The whole deal is even worse given that there is no guarantee on the timing for the usage of the water (Water Management Agreement with Quebec) and much of the firm surplus energy is promised to Nova Scotia at the always low end of the spectrum New England market rate. Who else could do that to the whole population other than a state owned enterprise run by people with little experience in running a utility and following a flawed political vision.

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  6. "It is unNewfoundland to actually complain that something isn't right"..... sounds the same as Mr Morine, an MHA here, originally from Nova Scotia I believe, who a century ago said that "Nflders are too green to burn", And of course, green then refered to fire wood that was not dry, where as now being "green" refers to energy conservation. Efficiency and conservation would have helped avoid the massive 8.3 billion Muskrat Falls, had we been green in that context. Instead, as ratepayers we subsidize Nova Scotia and the USA to be green. Winston Adams

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  7. The ironic part of it all is that we reap do many benefits from Labrador, and how Dover repay them? By allowing substandard infrastructure to continue, completely violating u re although and safety which we expect in all areas of the province. I was on the TLH there as well and between Cartwright and HVGB it was God awful. If I was a Labrador resident I would certainly expect more for the resources extracted from the big land.
    Russell Stockley

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