Ferry commissioner report: realistic roadmap for all ferry stakeholders

27 JANUARY 2012 – The Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs (FACC) welcome the BC Ferry Commissioner’s report on the review of the Coastal Ferry Act as a realistic though rocky path toward sustainability of essential coastal transportation.

The Commissioner found that fares have reached the “tipping point of affordability” and that “all of the principle stakeholders will need to be part of the solution.”

“The Commissioner has drawn a realistic picture of the problems in the ferry system,” says Tony Law of the Denman-Hornby FAC, “and of the responsibilities all the stakeholders have for fixing those problems.”

The FACC are pleased to see several of their long-standing requests among the Commissioner’s recommendations:
• make the Ferry Commissioner’s main responsibility protecting interests of ferry users and taxpayers;
• remove the requirement that the ferry system move toward user pay;
• remove the ban on cross-subsidization among route groups;
• limit future price cap increases to the rate of inflation.

“These are essential elements for reining in the galloping fare increases, which since 2003 have eroded ridership, hurt coastal economies, and threatened the sustainability of BC Ferries itself,” says Brian  Hollingshead of the Southern Gulf Islands FAC.

But they’re not enough.

“Coastal ferry users have to be realistic and accept some service changes,” says Harold Swierenga of Salt Spring FAC. “But we want to be absolutely clear: service cuts are only acceptable if the provincial government does its part too, and increases its financial contribution to adequately support the coastal ferry system. Anything else just won’t work.”

The FACC considers government contribution to be adequate if it brings fares back from the tipping point. That requires an initial fare roll-back, to create a sustainable baseline for inflation-indexed increases.

“Only this method will restore traffic to levels that will support the system,” says Bill Cripps of Northern Sunshine Coast FAC.

“We realize the provincial treasury has many demands on it,” says Cripps, “but we believe adequate support for ferries is critical for economic investment. Given that economic growth depends on solid transportation infrastructure, adequate ferry support underpins the Premier’s jobs plan.”

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BC Ferries: let’s get back to basics

26 OCTOBER 2011 – The Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs (FACC) are telling the BC Ferry Commissioner that it is time for the ferry system to get back to basics. They want to see the Coastal Ferry Act amended to replace the existing six principles with one simple, customer-oriented principle: to provide a safe, reliable, affordable ferry service.

“Affordability means that fares should increase in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Instead, fare increases have been several times higher,” says Bill Cripps who chairs the Northern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee. The FACC is recommending that government contributions be sufficiently increased in April 2012, to support a major roll-back in fares on the non-major routes.

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Fixing ferry fares: heavy lifting still ahead

27 MAY 2011 – The Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs (FACC) welcome the partial relief from escalating ferry fares announced this week by Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom.

But the drop from 8.23 to 4.15 percent in next year’s fare hike doesn’t touch recent increases, nor fix the fare problem in the long term. Neither will the new ferry review, unless it takes on the issue of public policy and government support for ferries.

“We applaud the fact that for the first time a minister has echoed the consistent call to address both affordability and sustainability, and that the commissioner will review this difficult balancing act,” says Tony Law of Hornby-Denman FAC. “But it isn’t enough to stop the damage to communities, ferry users or the ferry service itself.”

The partial rollback won’t feel like relief when people board a ferry this summer. Ferries will cost 17 percent more than they did last summer — what with the end of a fuel rebate, the addition of a fuel surcharge, and the annual fare increase that took effect last month.

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Assessing ferry fare projections

07 February 2011 –  Recently reported coastal ferry fare increases are a realistic assessment of what will happen in the absence of additional government support or of service reductions, say the Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs (FACC), which represent residents of coastal communities.

While projections may change if conditions change, the FACC see these as fixed realities:

  • The major and non-major route groups are different.
  • Only the provincial government can substantially reduce projected fares.
  • Basic provincial support for coastal ferries is $92M a year, unchanged since 2003.
  • Coastal communities are like any rural BC community.
  • Additional ferry funding makes good economic and public policy sense.
  • Imagine BC without affordable public access to the coast.

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Community input into ferry contract review

30 NOVEMBER 2010 – The Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs (FACC) have prepared two reports, which they have asked government to consider in the current review of the coastal ferry contract:

Ominous clouds
Summary of critical issues and data: fares and traffic, cost drivers, potential service reductions, and government funding analysis

Community impacts of escalating ferry fares
Impact of fare escalation on families, workforce, economies, part-time residents and tourists. Includes examples from residents and businesses.

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Decision time for ferry fares and service

02 SEPTEMBER 2010 –  Behind the scenes of this busy ferry travel weekend, work has started on a review of the contract between the provincial government and BC Ferries.

Every four years the Province decides on the level of service it wants to see provided (number of sailings per route), and how much it will pay for it (transportation fee).

The Ferry Advisory Chairs (FACC) are concerned that this current contract review faces a combination of factors that could lead to double-digit fares increases or service cuts, or both.

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Missing piece in new ferry bill

05 MAY 2010 –  A key recommendation by the Comptroller General is missing from the Province’s proposed changes for the ferry system. That recommendation could safeguard the public service role of ferries and reconcile an apparent conflict in government goals for the system, say the Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs (FACC).

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Comptroller General urges Province to clarify goals for ferries

09 NOVEMBER 2009 –  Representatives for users of the non-major coastal ferry routes welcome recommendations from the Comptroller General that address concerns about the system’s public service mandate.

The recommendations are contained in a report released Friday on the Comptroller General’s review of BC Ferries and TransLink governance.

The Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs (FACC) say the review was a large task within a tight timeframe. Yet the Comptroller General made some substantive, excellent recommendations.

The most significant ones affirm the public service role of coastal ferry service. The report notes that this is one of the province’s objectives, yet it is not reflected in the governance framework the province created in 2003:

“The focus on the sustainability of the ferry operator(s), as articulated in the Act as a principle to guide the Commission, needs to be balanced with the interests of users of the ferry system, local communities and taxpayers.”

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Summer ferry traffic suggests rethinking user pay

14 SEPTEMBER 2009 –  Summer traffic statistics just released by BC Ferries clearly indicate that high ferry fares affect the system, and suggest that current user-pay policies require re-examination.

The Ferry Advisory Committees chairs (FACC) believe the evidence is in the apparent connection between traffic and fares.

Traffic increased by 3 % across the system, during a period when BC Ferries offered the major routes a fare discount, and minor routes a fuel rebate. Both reductions lowered fares substantially, and both groups saw traffic rise substantially compared to last year.

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Fare cuts work: bright spot in dismal year

25 JUNE 2009 –  The chairs of the 12 Ferry Advisory Committees (FACC) see some warning signs and one bright spot in the latest annual report from BC Ferries (BCF), all of which will affect the system that gives British Columbians public access to their coast.

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A good start to addressing ferry fares

27 OCTOBER 2008 – The Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs (FACC) welcome the Premier’s announcement of reductions in ferry fares during December and January as an indication that the Province recognizes the impact escalating fares are having on coastal communities.

FACC representatives met with Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Kevin Falcon the day after Premier Gordon Campbell announced that the Province will fund a 33 percent reduction of ferry fares on all ferry routes for December and January and the restoration of ferry service levels for all routes.

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Ferry reps call for strategy meeting with Minister

01 AUGUST 2008 – The chairs of the coast’s 12 Ferry Advisory Committees (FACC) are asking Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon to meet with them at his earliest convenience to work on a strategy for the long-term sustainability of ferry service to their communities as substantial fuel surcharges hit many south coast routes.

Fares on B.C. Ferries’ smaller routes will increase by up to 21% when fuel surcharges go into effect today. Many of these fares have increased by over 100% in the last five years while inflation in B.C. has been only 2% per year.

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Ups and downs of the new ferry math

31 MARCH 2008 – Users of BC Ferries’ non-major routes are brushing up on their math, to try to keep track of what they’re going to be paying for travel, and to try to figure out where it can end.

Fares increases coming on April 1 are the second round of hikes within five months. Together the two hikes have boosted minor route fares by 11% this year.

This is keeping fares on the trajectory that started shooting upward after 2003. By 2011 the cumulative increases are expected to hit triple-digit percentages.

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Ferry fare hikes understated: some over 100%

27 SEPTEMBER 2007 – Recent reports of ferry fare increases understate the actual impact on riders. When increases are applied to actual routes, fares will jump as high as 120% from the time the government restructured BC Ferries in 2003.

A range of figures has been reported recently. These are increases to fare caps, which apply to entire Route Groups. When the fare cap figures are applied to actual routes and current pre-paid ticket fares – the tickets used by the majority of coastal residents – the numbers show dramatically larger increases.

As an example, a parent and two children travelling from Alert Bay to Port Hardy for swimming lessons will pay 97% more in ferry costs in 2011, than they did in 2003.
• $15.52 in April 2003
• $22.90 currrently
• $30.60 in April 2011.

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Higher-than-predicted ferry fares, no end in sight

20 SEPTEMBER 2007 –  Final fare figures from the BC Ferry Commission, released Tuesday, exceed preliminary figures released in March. Yet, representatives of ferry-dependent communities predict that even higher fares are likely.

Fare increases in the next four years will be determined by a formula, tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). If the CPI remains at current levels, fares on smaller routes face the following increases:

• 4.4% in November ’07 (announced previously)
• 4% in April ’08 (up by 0.4% from preliminary figures released in March)
• 7.2% each year for three following years – if the CPI remains unchanged
(up by 0.5% per year from preliminary figures released in March.)

These latest make a total of 12 fare hikes since the restructured ferry system took effect in 2003, with a cumulative fare increase of 90%. The most likely factors to drive fares past that point will be rising fuel prices and the instability of the CPI.

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Ferry fares to increase by more than 30%

16 SEPTEMBER 2007 – Recent reports of 25% hikes in BC Ferries’ fares are not the total picture of increases to come, according to representatives for ferry users.

Figures from BC Ferries President and CEO David Hahn don’t include increases set for November. Nor do they reflect the latest cost of fuel, and projections for future fuel costs.

The Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs (FACC), who head 12 groups that provide public input into service for ferry-dependent communities, note that when all the factors are considered, ferry users face an average increase of at least 30%. They expect the hikes will be even higher, as a result of the inflation multiplier in the new fare formula.

With unprecedented increases in recent years, users of routes to ferry-dependent communities will be paying fare hikes of more than 80% from 2003 to 2011 fares.

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Proposals for sustainable ferry service

03 MAY 2007 – The Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs (FACC) have presented the provincial government with a package of urgent proposals that they believe will help mitigate the serious situation facing users of 22 ferries routes to coastal communities in BC.

The FACC met with senior staff of the Transportation Ministry on Friday. The Ministry is in the process of deciding what it will contribute to ferry service for the second term of its service contract with BC Ferries (PT2). The Province must finalize its decision by June 30.

The FACC has identified these key issues for government:

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Cumulative fare hikes felt in coastal communities

02 APRIL 2007 –  Compounded fare increases on most of BC’s ferry routes could reach an average of 85% over 2003 fares by the end of the next regulated service term.

Preliminary fare caps were released Friday for the second performance term (PT2) of the contract between the Province and BC Ferries. The large increases affect 22 routes serving BC’s ferry-dependent communities.

“We already have signs that people are using ferries less than expected because of increases to date, says Greg Aivazoff, Ferry Advisory Committee Chair in Powell River. “If this round of hikes cuts further into travel, then we’ll see big hits to coastal economies and to the contribution they make to BC tourism.”

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Community input for BC Ferries new service term

22 MARCH 2007 –  Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon has agreed to give ferry-dependent communities a voice in the setting of the upcoming term of service, in the contract between BC Ferries and the Province.

The request was made by the Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs (FACC), based on concerns about fare increases of 30% to 65% already implemented since the new ferry system took effect. The FACC met with Minister Falcon on March 19.

“We’re very pleased the Minister recognizes the value of community suggestions for mitigating the impacts of further increases expected in the next four-year term,” says Tony Law of Hornby Island.

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