Tadoussac residents and those wanting to visit the scenic region may have to wait longer than usual to take the ferry across from Baie-Sainte-Catherine.
The Société des traversiers du Québec, the provincial ferry corporation, has reduced the frequency of crossings across the Saguenay river because of a shortage of deckhand workers.
There are normally two ferries departing simultaneously every 20 minutes from 7:40 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. during weekdays. But starting today, both ships are in service for only eight hours in the middle of the day. The rest of the time, it's just one boat.
"Our problem is the number of deckhands," said Bruno Verreault, a spokesperson for the STQ. He explained that a ship requires a minimum number of qualified workers in order to operate it safely and efficiently.
He said the STQ is now offering to pay for workers' accommodation in Tadoussac, where the staffing situation is particularly dire, in order to attract more people.
So far the STQ has not reduced services on its other routes, but Verreault confirmed the corporation is experiencing shortages everywhere.
A nuisance but not a catastrophe
"For sure it's not ideal," said Tadoussac Mayor Charles Breton. He foresees the cuts having the largest impact on Wednesdays, when there are a lot of trucks travelling to and from the North Shore to restock the region with supplies.
But he said most residents won't be affected since it's primarily the night schedule that has changed.
Martin Fournier, the general manager of Microbrasserie Tadoussac, the town's local microbrewery, also said he wasn't too worried. "We just have to wait a little longer," he said.
"If it had been summer it would have been a different situation," he said. But since cooler temperatures bring a decrease in tourists anyway, Fournier said he thinks the impact on his business will be minimal.
Renewed calls for a bridge
The service reduction prompted some advocates to renew calls to build a bridge between the two shores.
Pierre Breton, who is part of a group that is lobbying for a bridge, the Société du pont sur le Saguenay, criticized the cuts.
"Already the boats are not sufficient to offer a regular service," he said. "It gives more and more sense to the necessity to act quickly to build a bridge."
He said that the main highway on the North Shore is already underutilized, and would now be used at an even smaller capacity due to lower ferry traffic.
The service reduction comes a week after the STQ and the union representing its employees reached an agreement to improve conditions and salaries for workers in Tadoussac and Baie-Sainte-Catherine.