Ferry service should be free, says mayor

  • Aug. 24, 2012 6:00 a.m.

Masset mayor Andrew Merilees is calling for free ferry service to the north coast, saying that fares have risen so high they are damaging the islands’ economy.”Basically if the government is serious about developing the economy of the north coast, which includes tourism but is not limited to tourism, then it’s obvious that the experiment of BC Ferries as a quasi-arm’s length crown corporation was a failure,” Mr. Merilees said. “It should be part of our transportation link and free like any part of the transportation system in the province.”There is no extra charge to use roads, bridges and tunnels in other parts of the province, and the same principle should apply to the ferry system, a vital link that connects Haida Gwaii with the rest of BC, he said.Mr. Merilees said he has meetings set up at the upcoming Union of British Columbia Municipalities conference to discuss the ferry issue with provincial cabinet ministers.”Not just Masset but our neighbours in Old Massett are joining with us, as well as Charlotte and Port Clements,” he said. “It’s an island issue.”Mr. Merilees said the issue will also be discussed by the Misty Isles Economic Development Society when it next meets.Mr. Merilees pointed out that inland ferries have been free for 30 years, after the provincial government made a commitment to keep these routes running at no charge.”I think the islands should get equity and parity with that,” he said. “I don’t know the reasons why 30 years ago they were made free and continue to be free but I think that’s something we have to look at.”Local business owners agree that the cost of the ferry is having a huge impact on tourism. Brian Bussiere, owner of the Hidden Island RV Resort, just outside of Masset, said this year has seen the worst drop. He estimates business is down about 20 percent this year, and has plunged 50 percent over the last four years.”You drive a truck or trailer on here,” he said, “and it’s $980 each way. They’re not going to come too often.”Mr. Bussiere said having the ferry free would be nice, but calls the idea “a bit of a pipedream,” and said he would like to see fares substantially reduced. “Something needs to happen,” he said, “or we’re going to shrivel up to nothing.”Jackie Jones, manager of the Sea Raven Inn in Queen Charlotte, also said business has been down in the last three or four years, which she attributes to the ferry cost and the economy. She said she is not hopeful that the economy to going to change, or that the ferry cost will be reduced. “Nothing ever goes down in price,” she said.Urs Thomas, owner of the Golden Spruce Motel in Port Clements, said he has experienced a substantial drop in business, at least 30 to 40 percent in the last four years. He doesn’t just blame the ferry, saying his clients from Europe have complained that the costs of flights from Vancouver to the islands are more than the cost of their flights from Europe to Canada. He also said his clients do complain about expensive BC Ferries is and that a lot of groups and families just aren’t coming over any more.Mr. Thomas thinks having the ferry free is unlikely. “I think free is a big dream, you know, I don’t think that’s going to happen, but it should be reduced in cost.”

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