By cracking down on trucks that are getting a free ride, BC Ferries could save three times the amount that’s anticipated from cutting the first Sunday sailing in winter, a former chair of the southern Sunshine Coast ferry advisory committee told panel members at the Nov. 30 engagement meeting in Gibsons.
Jakob Knaus said more than 2,000 trucks travelled last year from Langdale without paying fares in Horseshoe Bay.
“Apparently these trucks pay a barge to take them to the southern Sunshine Coast and they travel back free to Horseshoe Bay,” Knaus said. “This represents a loss of tariff revenue in excess of $300,000 per year.”
Knaus said the obvious remedy is to charge fares to commercial traffic at both Langdale and Horseshoe Bay.
“We have pointed out this happening to BC Ferries over the last three years, but they say this is not a problem for them,” he said.
The provincial government estimates it will save $100,000 in each of the next two years by eliminating the 6:20 a.m. Sunday round trip in the off-peak season.
Knaus said BC Ferries should “close all the loopholes and curtail administration to reasonable levels before you harass us with cuts to our ferry schedule.”
In his submission, Knaus stressed that Sunshine Coast passengers are already penalized with fares that are 40 to 60 per cent higher than the major ferry routes on a dollar-per-mile-travelled basis.
Suggesting several “tweaks” to the province’s plans to reduce sailings and cut costs, Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) chair Garry Nohr called for an economic zone for commercial vehicles and a solution to the chronic problem of commercial overload on the 7:20 a.m. ferry from Horseshoe Bay.
To make life easier for commuters and families, Nohr said, BC Ferries should schedule the 5:30 p.m. ferry from Horseshoe Bay year round.
And if plans go forward to eliminate the 6:20 a.m. Sunday sailing, he said, “BC Ferries should allow a water taxi or passenger ferry to use their facilities to take commuters to Horseshoe Bay, as a service to those who have jobs on the mainland.”
Several speakers at the engagement meeting questioned the fairness of the province funding 14 free inland ferries yet expecting the coastal service to operate on a user-pay model.
Kevin Richter, assistant deputy minister with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, acknowledged the inland ferries are free, but said the subsidy for the $23-million service is about $18 per vehicle, compared to $23 per vehicle for the “much more expensive” coastal service.
“So what?” one man yelled in response.
FAC member David Dick disputed Richter’s math. After ferry user fees, federal grants, PST and fuel tax, the provincial subsidy for BC Ferries is less than $2 per passenger, he said.
Many seniors who addressed the panel said the high fares were keeping their children and grandchildren from visiting them on the Coast. Betty-Anne Pap of Sechelt said it will cost more than $300 for her grandchildren to visit this Christmas.
District of Sechelt Coun. Alice Lutes, speaking as a long-time resident, urged officials to “put some faces on the issue, not just dollar signs.”
“We’re standing here in a high school gym — there’s three of them on the Sunshine Coast. The community raises hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships so kids can get training and come back. But they don’t come back,” Lutes said.
Lorne Lewis, SCRD director for Elphinstone, said the fare structure has driven young people out of the area.
“That’s the opposite of economic development,” Lewis said. “The premier ran on jobs, jobs, jobs — and this is the opposite of it. It’s the wrong system. No matter how hard you work, I don’t think you can fix it.”
Illustrating how schedules have been reduced over the years, Donna Shugar, SCRD director for Roberts Creek, said when she moved to the Coast in the 1970s the last sailing from Horseshoe Bay was at 11:30 p.m., making it possible for her to attend evening courses at UBC and return home the same night.
The last sailing now leaves Horseshoe Bay at 9:15 p.m.
Shugar urged BCF to reinstate the residents’ card and noted the “constantly changing schedules wreak havoc with our transit system.”
The proposed service and seniors’ discount cuts are set to take effect on April 1, 2014.