B.C.’s government introduced changes to the Coastal Ferry Act Wednesday afternoon (May 9) that increase the service fee and pave the way for “significant adjustments to service levels.”
The additional provincial funding of almost $80 million is spread out over five fiscal years, with $46.5 million up front, followed by $10.5 million next year, $11 million the following year and $11.5 million in 2015-2016.
Blair Lekstrom, Minister of Trans-portation and Infrastructure, said during a conference call that the changes will take the involvement of the province, B.C. Ferries and ferry users.
“This is really about the taxpayer, it is about the ferry user and it is about the ferry corporation,” he said. “All of us have to come together to ensure that we have a long-term, financially stable and affordable system.”
B.C. Ferries has to find an additional $15 million in efficiencies, Lekstrom said, while it maintains its safety record.
There will be significant adjustments to service levels and discussions with communities about trade-offs among service adjustments, fare increases and potential community contributions.
The government will be initiating a public engagement process in the near future with coastal communities.
“We are going to look for $30 million in service adjustments and trade-offs as to what can be done out there to make sure we don’t have routes that are running at below 30 per cent utilization,” Lekstrom said.
He doesn’t want to give the impression that there isn’t going to be pain from the community side of things, Lekstrom added.
“We are asking the people to come to the table, to talk to us, talk about trade-offs,” he said. “There may be opportunities that they have that they want to put forward.”
The new legislation is the government’s response to a report by B.C.’s independent ferry commissioner. Other provisions in the legislation include:
• Cross-subsidization between routes will be permitted.
• The commissioner will be given additional responsibility to oversee the costs of providing the ferry service. These changes will help reduce the pressure on fares.
• The ferry commissioner will be responsible for approving major capital expenditures with a view to furthering government’s long-term vision. For example, the commissioner will be able to consider vessel replacements that will meet the needs of the future rather than the traffic patterns of the past.
The government will also be exploring a long-range vision for B.C. Ferries and long-term strategies will be developed and implemented. Future investments will look at providing greater interoperability of ferries between routes, reducing operating costs by implementing new technologies, such as LNG-fuelled and cable ferries, and allowing for alternative methods to connect coastal communities, such as passenger-only ferries and other service improvements.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more local reactions to this announcement in the May 18 edition of Coast Reporter.