01/18/2014 16:03 EST | Updated 03/20/2014 05:59 EDT

BC Ferries service cuts protested on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast

Residents of B.C.'s Sunshine Coast, a part of the B.C. mainland without road access to the rest of the province, are protesting BC Ferries' cuts to ferry services.

In November, BC Ferries proposed cutting 6,900 sailings per year on 16 minor routes and said most of those sailings were identified as running at roughly 20 per cent capacity or less.

Now, a day after a 3.5 per cent fare hike went into effect, a series of eight group protests are taking place from 12:30 p.m. PT to 1:30 p.m. along Highway 101.

The rallies are being held at the Langdale Ferry Terminal, in upper Gibsons, at Roberts Creek, in Sechelt, at Redrooffs Road, at Madeira Park, at the Earls Cove Ferry Terminal and at the Westview Ferry Terminal in Powell River.

The BC Ferry Coalition, which is organizing the mass rally, is encouraging B.C.'s coastal residents to write letters to the premier explaining how the proposed service cuts and already-escalating fares will affect their families and communities.

Fare hikes hurting economies: NDP

B.C.'s New Democrats said Friday that a constant wave of fare increases is hurting Vancouver Island's economy.

Opposition NDP ferries critic Claire Trevena said Friday's 3.5 per cent increase to cover rising fuel costs is the first of what will total more than seven per cent of fare increases in the first four months of the year.

A four per cent increase is scheduled to take effect on April 1.

Trevena says Transportation Minister Todd Stone should stop the increases because the economies of small coastal communities like Bella Coola and Port Hardy are suffering.

The ferry fare increases are mandated under the Coastal Ferry Act as part of an approved improvement plan that includes finding savings of more than $54 million.