Ferry fuel surcharge an attack, says MLA

  • Jan. 9, 2006 6:00 a.m.

The latest ferry fuel surcharge shows that the provincial government has absolutely no interest in protecting the public from skyrocketing fares, says North Coast MLA Gary Coons.
Mr. Coons said he was alarmed by Ferry Commissioner Martin Crilly’s preliminary decision to allow a 3-percent fuel surcharge on ferry fares starting Feb. 1, the second such surcharge in less than a year.
(The decision, issued three weeks ago, is preliminary and may be changed up until Jan. 21, when it becomes final.)
The surcharge will affect Haida Gwaii more than other coastal areas, Mr. Coons said, because we rely on the ferry system to get to the mainland and to receive goods and supplies, unlike Vancouver Island where goods are often sent by barge rather than ferry. As well, the cost of a ferry fare between Skidegate and Prince Rupert is already much higher than almost any other route, which means the actual surcharge we pay is higher.
In a detailed letter to the Ferry Commissioner, Mr. Coons called the surcharge application an “attack” and a “hit” against rural communities along the minor routes, which will see a 3-percent increase, compared to the preliminarily-approved 1.5-percent increase for the major routes (those between Vancouver and Victoria).
The fuel surcharge approved in July also had a rural-urban split, Mr. Coons said, with 6-percent applied against the minor routes and 4-percent to the major routes.
Deputy Commissioner Alan Eastwood responded to Mr. Coons, saying the reason for the higher surcharge on the minor routes is that these routes don’t come close to covering their operating costs through normal fare revenues.
“In the case of Haida Gwaii, on the Prince Rupert to Skidegate route fare revenue covers only about 30-percent of operating costs and, of course, as a longer route fuel costs are proportionately higher than on other routes,” Mr. Eastwood wrote.
Mr. Eastwood said he also realized that having two surcharges within a six month period is “irritating” to some passengers.
Mr. Coons said ultimately, he blames the provincial government for its 2002 decision to turn BC Ferries into a quasi-private company. At the time, the government said the new set-up would improve service, create new jobs for coastal communities and ensure stable rates.
“I just don’t think we’re seeing it,” Mr. Coons said. “This government has not been looking out for the public interestÂ… In my opinion, no one is looking after the public interest.”
Meanwhile, the Queen Charlotte Islands Chamber of Commerce fired off its own letter to the Ferry Commission last week, blasting it for its preliminary approval of the latest fuel surcharge.
“The imposition of this increase on top of the 6-percent increase imposed in July makes living and operating successful businesses in our isolated islands very difficult, especially when added to the shock caused by higher fuel prices,” reads the letter from chamber president Jean Traplin. “Visitor bookings for next year are already noticeably down as a result of the first increase; this additional increase could be the final straw for some businesses here as the local economy reels form the contraction of the logging industry.”
Chamber secretary Maggie Bell Brown said local small businesses, especially those in the tourist industry, are concerned about the cumulative effect of the double fuel surcharge.
“There have been complaints about it,” she said. “And they’re really worried about what’s going to happen this coming season.”
The deadline for public input into the fuel surcharge application ended on Jan. 8. The BC Ferry Commission will be issuing a final decision on the matter sometime this month.