01/18/2014 07:23 EST | Updated 03/20/2014 05:59 EDT

Protesters in Sunshine Coast rally against ferry rate hikes and service cuts

POWELL RIVER, B.C. - The spokesman of the BC Ferry Coalition says protesters gathered peacefully at nine sites along the Sunshine Coast Highway to slam BC Ferries' recent rate hikes and impending service route cuts.

Jef Keighley (Keith-lee) says the coalition opposes the changes because they are driving down business and separating families who have loved ones on the mainland.

Natasha Blanchette, who organized the protest at Westview Ferry Terminal in Powell River, says local MLA Nicholas Simons and city councillor Debbie Dee were also present at the event and voiced their support for the protest.

She says ferry rate hikes that occurred four years ago drove her thrift store out of business, because many tourists stopped coming to town.

The cost of using the ferry has gone up thanks to a 3.5 per cent fuel surcharge imposed on Friday.

It's the latest in a series of changes that will also include service cuts to some routes.