But visitors complain more about high ferry fares than safety. Go David Hahn, go! http://www.chtv.com/ch/cheknews/story.html?id=2423469
Ferries boss says customers 'don't feel safe' downtown
Bill Cleverley, Times Colonist
Published: Saturday, January 09, 2010
B.C. Ferries boss David Hahn says Victoria needs more police to make downtown streets safe.
Hahn, who wrote a letter to Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin and council calling for an increase to the police budget, says the downtown area has been plagued by property crime, homelessness and panhandling for many years, "severely" damaging the community's reputation.
Those problems are repeatedly cited by B.C. Ferries customers, he says. "They love the city -- they just don't feel safe."
David Hahn wrote a letter to Victoria's council calling for more policing downtown, saying the area has been plagued by property crime and panhandling.
In his letter, Hahn says Victoria police are "under-resourced" and need additional funding to increase their presence and improve the image of the region's downtown.
Ironically, though, the top complaint cited by visitors in the latest Tourism Victoria exit surveys was not safety but high ferry prices.
Asked what changes or improvements could be made to increase Victoria's appeal as a travel destination, the vast majority cited ferry fares.
In fact, the number of people citing high ferry prices rose to 126 in 2009 from 112 the year before. Forty-four people cited panhandlers -- down from 62 the year before -- and safety isn't even mentioned.
Reached yesterday afternoon, Hahn said his letter shouldn't be read as an indictment of the city but as support for police.
Told that exit surveys cite high ferry fares as a far bigger issue than panhandling, he said: "That could be. ... But new ships come with a different cost structure."
Recent customer surveys conducted by B.C. Ferries show a 92 per cent customer-satisfaction rating, he said.
Tourism Victoria president Robert Gialloreto doesn't believe safety is as big a problem in the downtown as problems such as panhandling.
He, too, sent the city a letter calling for increased policing downtown. "It's about having a completely welcoming downtown core for the tourists that come here," Gialloreto said.
He said more than 70 per cent of the people arriving in Victoria on the Coho and the Clipper are repeat visitors and they say the downtown experience "is going in the wrong direction."
"Panhandling has come up in our exit surveys over and over and over again and we have lost some major conferences in the last couple of years because of how our city is presented in the downtown core," Gialloreto said.
Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe, council liaison for downtown, said she shares some of the concerns expressed by Hahn and Gialloreto, but added council is working to improve the downtown experience.
She believes the downtown is safe and noted panhandling is legal.
"Policing often just moves the problems to different areas and it's never been my desire to move it to other neighbourhoods or other municipalities. By dealing with the preventative and root issues we'll go further in solving the issues," Thornton-Joe said.
"Am I concerned that the issues of homelessness and mental illness and addiction are visible? I'm saddened by it and I think we need to as a city, as a province and a country, work better at it," she said.
Fortin said Hahn's letter is representative of the feelings expressed by many businesses downtown.
He noted that as a result of his late-night task force, Victoria has increased its police presence downtown on weekends.
"Already we're hearing reports about a significant change," he said.
Asked if downtown is safe, Fortin said: "Absolutely." firstname.lastname@example.org