Thursday April 17, 2014

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Is there smooth sailing ahead?

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Today (Dec. 21) is D-day, and no, we’re not talking about the end of the Mayan calendar. Dec. 21 marks the end of the consultation process between the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and coastal communities and their residents about the B.C. Ferry service.

The corporation has already found $4 million through service reductions on the major routes between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, but a further $26 million in savings has to be found by 2016. So where does the corporation find the money? What are the answers to the million dollar questions?

Some of the answers may lie in the excellent dialogue that has taken place.

Talks up and down the Coast have been well attended with many thoughtful ideas and suggestions put forward at the 30-plus meetings. Late last week, the chairs of the province’s coastal ferry advisory committees came out with a very well thought out plan — one that merits a strong look by government officials.

The FAC chairs have declared the current business model of B.C. Ferries a total failure after 10 years — a sentiment that we also share — and are calling for a 25 per cent rollback in fares on all non-major routes. That would include the Horseshoe Bay to Langdale route, Earls Cove to Saltery Bay and Langdale - Keats - Gambier route.

One of the key points in backing up their idea is low ridership — and why ridership is so low is high fares. People are simply not travelling on B.C. Ferries because they can’t afford to. Ten years ago, when B.C. Ferries was a Crown corporation and then became a private corporation, one of its mandates was to come up with a reasonable set of expectations. One of those expectations, according to the FAC, was fair and reasonable fares. Well, the corporation has not provided fair and reasonable fares.

Now, we realize that economic changes over the past 10 years, the up and down costs of fuel and other factors play into the increase of fares, and that’s a fair argument, but that should not always be the excuse. The high cost of travel and this user-pay system has led to lost jobs, a troubling tourism industry and lost business in other sectors — all facts that were brought up repeatedly by many during this consultation.

Another suggestion — and one that has been brought up time and time again — is treating B.C. Ferries like a highway system. B.C. Ferries is our highway, so why should just the residents of the Sunshine Coast pay for the system? All taxpayers should be responsible for the system, and it should be treated like a highway.

So the consultation is done, great ideas have been presented. Will the government listen? Will the corporation listen? Is there smooth sailing ahead? Guess we’ll find out in February when the results of the consultation are made public.

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