Transportation Minister Mary Polak got an earful about the negative impact of escalating ferry fares on coastal communities when she met with about 10 regional district chairs March 12 in Victoria.
“We hammered away at the social impacts and the economy,” Garry Nohr, chair of the Sunshine Coast Regional District, said after the Tuesday meeting. “The minister gave us a good hour, but said the same old thing. She was very non-committal and made it very clear that they’re going forward with cuts and the increase on April 1.”
On April 1, ferry fares will go up 4.1 per cent on all major routes, part of a planned 12 per cent hike over three years as the province tries to find $26 million in savings by 2016.
Nohr said Polak indicated the province is considering options such as adding passenger-only ferries to some routes.
“They know that in a lot of coastal areas people are not taking their cars — they’re going on as foot passengers — but all the stats are about cars. She’s quite aware of that,” he said.
During his presentation, Nohr asked the minister to consider reducing or halting fare increases for commercial vehicles travelling to the Sunshine Coast. The idea seemed to spark Polak’s interest, he said.
“Both her and her deputy minister’s ears perked up. It’s not a costly option. It might be one thing they look at,” Nohr said.
Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons, who also met Tuesday with the regional district chairs, blasted the April 1 fare increase announcement, but wouldn’t specify how much he would like to see fares rolled back if the NDP wins the May election.
“The independent commissioner has said that ferry fares were already at the tipping point, and I am firmly on his side,” Simons told Coast Reporter. “How much lower fares should be would be determined once we get a look at the books. We need to see if the government has created as big a mess as it appears.”
Simons said fare increases affect the cost of everything in coastal communities.
“The 4.1 per cent hike is well above the rate of inflation and is going to hurt the over 52,000 people who call the Sunshine Coast home. The announcement comes a day after a report on last year’s consultations, which showed people in every community wanting ferries brought back under the highways system, and that the fare issue be addressed,” Simons said.
“This all points to the failure of the Coastal Ferries Act and the privatization of our public transportation system.”
In a statement on the fare increase, Liberal candidate Patrick Muncaster said fares on the routes serving the Sunshine Coast and Powell River are already too high.
While praising the government for holding the ferry consultations and providing $79.5 million in additional funding to the coastal service, Muncaster said the situation remains untenable.
“We are proverbially between a rock and a hard place where long-term cost pressures are concerned. Status quo operations are not an option,” he said.