31 MARCH 2014 – Ferry fares continue their relentless climb into regions of unaffordability, accompanied by repetitive rhetoric from the provincial government that is disconnected from acceptance, or even understanding, of the needs of BC’s coastal region.
With the fare increases taking effect on April 1 and fuel surcharges imposed in January, most passenger fares are up 8.4 percent and vehicle fares are up 7.4 percent over last year, yet another round of fare hikes far above inflation. And seniors now have to pay for travel from Monday to Thursday.
On those northern routes that will continue to operate, fares are up only 1.5 percent, but the fare break is too little, too late. On the northern route due for outright elimination, Route 40 serving the central coast, fares increased 60 percent and traffic dropped 43 percent in a straight line since 2007, under operating conditions that ran counter to local residents’ suggestions to improve the route’s efficiency. Now it’s considered unprofitable, and treated as unsalvageable, regardless of the damage that will result to local communities and BC’s tourism industry.
Traffic and fares on all the minor routes are following the same pattern, and the response is to cut service rather than to address the root problem – unaffordable fares. Vehicle traffic this year will be the lowest in 15 years, while passenger traffic will be the lowest in 23 years. This comes at a time when provincial GDP and populations are both increasing. While this has a direct bearing on BC Ferries’ revenue, it’s also a surrogate for the creeping harm that undermines coastal regions that depend on the ferries as a lifeline.
Until the provincial government addresses the real problem – adequate funding to support realistic fares – all the band-aid fixes in the world will only delay the ultimate day of reckoning. While the provincial government refers to keeping BC Ferries sustainable – a red herring – they ignore the sustainability of the ferry-dependent coastal communities, as that real economic sustainability becomes more in danger every year.
User-pay ideology has been mindlessly imposed on the ferry system, up to and beyond the tipping point where it is now crippling BC’s coastal region and undermining BC’s tourism reputation internationally. The provincial and federal governments contributed roughly $180 million last year to BC Ferries’ operations. Ferry users contributed more than $500 million. At this key moment in BC Ferries’ history, when so many ships and terminals need replacement, more money will be needed. There is no cheap solution nor infinite capacity of customers to absorb ever-higher fares.
We call on the Province to back away from more user pay and consider these realities:
- BC’s coastal region and the ferry system are intertwined and depend on each other for survival.
- It costs money to operate and maintain assets of one of the largest ferry systems in the world.
- All of BC benefits from affordable ferry service. Policies that substantially change the service need to be supported by some analysis of costs, benefits and economic and social impacts.