B.C. Ferries is going full steam ahead with a planned 4.1 per cent fare hike for all routes on April 1.
The March 6 announcement came one day after the provincial government released its coastal ferries consultation and engagement report, which identified high fares as the public’s top concern, but contained no recommendations to change the current system.
“We will carefully consider this report and take some time to determine how best to move forward to ensure that coastal communities are connected in an affordable, efficient and sustainable manner,” Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Mary Polak said in a media release.
The release said the government’s goal is still to find $26 million in savings by 2016.
Approved last October, the April 1 fare changes will increase the cost for adult passengers on Route 3 (Horseshoe Bay to Langdale) by 55 cents and for passenger vehicles by $1.95, for a combined total fare of $63.60.
On Route 7 (Earls Cove to Saltery Bay), adult passenger fares will also go up 55 cents, while passenger vehicles will cost $1.90 more, for a combined total fare of $62.05.
On Route 13 (Langdale to Keats and Gam-bier islands), foot passengers will pay 30 cents more as one-way fares rise to $7.45.
As well, commercial vehicles on both major routes will pay 25 cents per foot more under the new rates, while buses will be charged an additional 20 cents per foot.
The fee for reservations made less than seven days in advance will also increase, from $17.50 to $18.50.
The increases are the first of a three-year, 12 per cent fare hike approved Oct. 1 by ferry commissioner Gordon Macatee.
Following that announcement, the provincial government consulted with 30 coastal communities on the future of the ferry service, holding a total of 40 public meetings. While the government was looking for ideas to save money, the outstanding issue raised at 33 of the meetings was that fares are currently not affordable, said the March 5 report on the public engagement, prepared by Kirk and Co. Consulting Ltd. and Mustel Group Market Research.
“People are extremely concerned about the lack of affordability of fares,” the report said, noting that presenters warned the government panel that families and businesses were leaving coastal communities due to the high ferry costs.
“Participants expressed a strong desire for fares to be reduced, adding that reduced fares, discounts or differential pricing to incent travel on sailings with low utilization will increase ridership,” said the report.
After high fares, the next major theme listed in the report was to make B.C. Ferries part of the provincial highway system, and for the province to fund it accordingly.
More than 2,000 people attended the public meetings and almost 2,000 feedback forms and written submissions were received, the province said.
The pressure to reduce fares has also come from the province’s coastal ferry advisory committees.
In December, committee chairs declared the current business model for B.C. Ferries a failure after 10 years and called for a 25 per cent rollback in fares on all non-major routes. The 25 per cent figure was “based on our opinion of what it would take to restore traffic levels,” said Barry Cavens, chair of the southern Sunshine Coast committee.
The province said further consultations will take place before any specific service reductions are implemented.