A 12 per cent increase in fares over the next three years will only cut ferry traffic volumes and push fares higher, the Southern Sunshine Coast ferry advisory committee’s chairman warned last week
“It’s a spiral and this spiral has to be addressed at some point,” Barry Cavens said.
On Monday, BC Ferries announced that independent ferry commissioner Gordon Macatee had approved new caps for fare increases on all route groups.
Passengers can expect fares to rise by 4.1 per cent starting April 2013, four per cent in April 2014 and 3.9 per cent in April 2015.
In a consensus statement released the next day, the province’s ferry advisory committee chairs blasted the increases, saying they were double the rate of inflation and did nothing to bridge the “affordability gap” that had been identified back in January.
“It’s infuriating,” said Stephanie Clarke, a Coast resident who launched the website ferryhostage.com in August. “And what’s also infuriating is that this is coming out before the consultation process is finished.”
Cavens said he was also disturbed by the timing of the announced increases, prior even to dates being set for the fall public consultation on coastal ferry service.
“I’m concerned we’re having the increases approved before we have the consultation process and have a long-term strategy in place,” Cavens said.
“It has impacts on people and communities.”
Clarke said she created ferryhostage.com to be a constructive tool to collect people’s comments and suggestions about ferry service, and more than 250 people had filled out surveys on the site.
“We’re politically too small,” she said. “If we all banded together — with Nanaimo, Quadra Island, Bowen Island, everyone — it might be different, but we are so apathetic … and we have no political power.”
Both Cavens and Clarke said the province has to include coastal ferry service as part of B.C.’s highway system and fund it accordingly, but Clarke said she didn’t expect the coming round of consultations to look at major systemic changes of that kind.
“I don’t have a lot of confidence that the process is going to yield anything,” she said.
In its release on the fare increases, the province said the new cap “incorporates efficiency targets and provides for service level adjustments still to be determined” through the public consultation process.
The price cap is “lower than would otherwise be the case” because BC Ferries is still expecting to find $30 million in service cuts, the release said.
About $1 million will be saved by cutting 98 round trips on major routes after Thanksgiving, mainly on the Swartz Bay and Duke Point to Tsawwassen runs.
The ferry commission also released an order Monday requiring BC Ferries to submit plans within 30 days for converting to alternate fuels and reducing fuel consumption. The corporation said it is looking at using liquefied natural gas as an alternate fuel.
A second order sets the threshold for major capital expenditure at $30 million for vessels and terminals and $5 million for upgrades to information technology systems.