Ferry fare hikes possible

  • Nov. 19, 2010 6:00 a.m.

BC Ferries passengers could be facing 30 to 40 percent fare hikes over the next five years if current subsidies to northern routes remain the same. Evan Putterill, regional district director and chair of the Moresby Island Management Committee, attended a North and Central Coast BC Ferries Advisory Committee meeting on Nov. 8 and heard this message from BC Ferries staff, which he relayed to MIMIC on Nov. 10. BC Ferries said that if the Ministry of Transportation provides the same level of subsidies as it does now, Ferries will have to charge more to make up the costs for their third performance term (April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2016). BC Ferries is preparing for the third period of their 60-year contract with the Province, as per the Coastal Ferry Services Act. The third performance term renewal will outline core service levels, subsidies and fare price caps for all BC Ferries routes. BC Ferries recently sent the BC Ferries Commissioner a submission that he will use to set proposed price caps, said BC Ferries spokesperson Mark Stefanson to the Observer on Friday (Nov. 12). The company projects expenses to remain the same, but ridership to be down in the next period. Unless they can offer less services or the province provides higher subsidies, they will have to boost fares by a minimum of 10 percent every year during the third performance term . “Something’s got to give,” said Mr. Stefanson. Some of the possibilities suggested to the BC Ferries Commissioner in a recently submitted efficiency plan, include eliminating services between Mill Bay and Brentwood Bay on Vancouver Island and finding alternatives for the Bella Coola to Port Hardy route. The Tsawwassen to Port Hardy route is also still on the table. Mr. Putterill, who along with Queen Charlotte mayor Carol Kulesha and Skidegate councillor Billy Yovanovich attended the advisory committee meeting in Vancouver, says coastal communities have not been consulted recently on their expectations for core services and ferry fares. “We’re pushing to get our views heard on that,” he said. Mr. Putterill said the ferries on Haida Gwaii are part of the highway and public transportation system. He said an increase in fees and reduction in service would have a devastating effect on the islands’ economy. “We need to get the Ministry of Transportation to understand how important keeping the current service levels are,” he said. “I think it is important that everyone who possibly can, voice their concern to the province.” MIMC member Gord Usher asked if the ministry in charge of BC Ferries was the same as the one in charge of the inland fresh water services. He reiterated a familiar concern that the fresh water ferries are free, but the Kwuna run and the Prince Rupert route are not. In the BC Ferries report to the commissioner, the company reported the following: in 2009/2010 the province’s share of the subsidy to the Kwuna was $3.45 million with revenues of $682,000; the provincial subsidy on the Prince Rupert-Port Hardy run was $21 million with around $5 million in revenue. The Kwuna reported a $2.7 million loss, much of it accounted for due to the major refit the boat received. Route 11 reported a $10 million surplus in 2009/2010. According to Mr. Stefanson, not all routes are subsidized. The major routes between Vancouver and Vancouver Island, which receive no subsidies reported a $3.9 million surplus. In all, BC Ferries reported a $3.4 million surplus on net route earnings for 2009/2010.