The chairs of the province’s coast ferry advisory committees (FAC) have declared the current business model for B.C. Ferries a failure after 10 years and are calling for a 25 per cent rollback in fares on all non-major routes.
“If you want to increase the ridership, then you have to do something with fares,” said Barry Cavens, chair of the southern Sunshine Coast FAC.
When the provincial government changed B.C. Ferries to a quasi-private company 10 years ago, the new service came with a set of expectations, Cavens said.
“One of those expectations was that fares would be fair and reasonable. What we’ve heard from the communities is that this model hasn’t delivered on what was expected. I don’t think anyone would argue that,” Cavens said. “The other thing we heard is that seniors are not connected with their grandchildren because they can’t pay the fares. That’s not affordable travel, if we’re driving people apart.”
The 25 per cent figure for the proposed rollback, he said, was “based on our opinion of what it would take to restore traffic levels.”
The rollback is proposed for B.C. Ferries’ 22 non-major routes, which include Horseshoe Bay to Langdale (Route 3), Earls Cove to Saltery Bay (Route 7) and Langdale - Keats - Gambier (Route 13).
The current round-trip price for car and driver on Route 3 is $62.25, slightly higher than the $60.75 charged on Route 7. Route 13 is for foot passengers only and one-way fares are $7.25.
If fare increases announced in the fall are implemented, those prices will rise by 12 per cent during the next three years, with a 4.1 per cent increase set for April 2013, four per cent for April 2014 and 3.9 per cent for April 2015.
In a media release calling for a “10th anniversary fix” for the coastal ferry system, FAC chairs said the recent round of consultations by the province overwhelmingly identified high fares as the main problem that needed to be addressed.
“Government’s embrace of user pay has also led to lost jobs, collapsing tourism and businesses, and chronic ferry traffic losses,” said the release. “New public debt has been avoided, but only by off-loading debt onto B.C. Ferries and, through the fares, to its users.”
To repair the failed system, the FAC chairs are calling for a new capital plan and a funding mechanism that would keep fare increases within the rate of inflation.
A fourth “essential element of recovery,” the FAC chairs said, is a new service model that includes community consultation and is designed appropriately for each route.
“I don’t think it’s one size fits all — we have to look at how each community is using the ferries as part of their overall sustainability,” Cavens said. “The needs for each community have to be considered as part of the plan.”
Today (Dec. 21) was the deadline for submissions in the provincial government’s public consultations on the coastal ferry system. The consultants report is due to be released in February.
Cavens said the public consultation sessions in coastal communities served to increase government’s awareness of the issues and also raised public expectations for substantive change.
“I look forward to the report in February and how it’s going to be used by government,” he said.
In their media release, FAC chairs said government has also received “well-considered advice” from the B.C. auditor general, comptroller general and BC Ferry Commission that “would help repair the model and fulfill some of the goals for the system.”
There are 13 FACs in the province, representing ferry users on the 22 non-major routes.