UPDATE: McGrath unveils plans for expansive Labrador ferry contract

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Transportation Minister Nick McGrath is looking to overhaul Labrador ferry services by setting up a sweeping 15-year contract, new boats and improved service.

Transportation Minister Nick McGrath announced Tuesday that he's looking to bring Labrador ferry services under a single, unified 15-year contract that will bring new vessels to the north and south coasts. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram

At this point, it's all just a request for proposals (RFP) and the government isn't anticipating the new service will start until 2016, but McGrath said if it all goes according to plan, the aging MF Apollo and MV Sir Robert Bond will be replaced by new vessels.

“Under a single contractor, the Labrador ferry services will be integrated for greater efficiencies and improved service delivery,” he said. “This contractor will be responsible for meeting service schedules, reservations, freight and vehicle handling as well as customer relations.”

The RFP will also beef up service on the north coast by specifying that the new vessel needs to be roll on/roll off to allow vehicles to drive on and off.

McGrath said currently he hears a lot of complaints about ferries having to sit outside small harbours along the coast, waiting for the tides to be just right to be able to take the vessel in and turn it around for offloading.

“With the roll on/roll off, the ship will go directly into the dock, you drive onto the ship when you go into the dock, you drive off the ship,” he said.

The new contract aims to continue the year-round ferry service provided by the Sir Robert Bond on the south coast.

McGrath said that come 2016, both the Bond and the Apollo will come out of service, because the government is specifying that anybody bidding for the contract must provide ships that were built after 2010.

Both the Liberals and the NDP agreed that – on the face of it – the whole thing seems like a pretty good idea.

Liberal MHA Tom Osborne called it a good news announcement, although he was a bit skeptical about whether the government can actually deliver.

“The time lines a little ambitious – I'm not sure if they're attainable (but) I hope they are,” he said. “The sooner we can get this service up and running and provide for the people of Labrador what they've been asking for, the better.”

New Democrat MHA George Murphy was similarly hopeful, although he said the devil might be hiding in the details of the RFP.

Murphy said the recent ferry-buying spree of the government seems to be a result of public pressure.

“Government is trying to move ahead with the ferry replacement strategy; they've taken some solid steps in recent weeks, thanks to the pressures, I guess, that we've been putting on them,” he said. “They had no other choice but to respond the way they have.”

The RFP will close on April 30, 2014. McGrath said he couldn't talk about how much the new contract will cost until after the bids come in, and his officials get a chance to evaluate them.

(Earlier story)

Transportation Minister Nick McGrath announced this morning the government is aiming for an expansive new contract for the Labrador ferry service.

McGrath said that he's issuing a request for proposals (REP) for a 15-year comprehensive ferry contract that will replace the MV Apollo and the Sir Robert Bond to handle ferry service on the north and south coasts of Labrador.

The new service will continue year round for the south coast and roll on/roll off service for the north coast.

McGrath said that the RFP emphasizes quality of service, and stipulates that vessels on the run must be new or at least built after 2010.

There's no clear sense of how much it'll cost.

McGrath said that, after the bids are in, the department will sit down and assess costs.

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