FACC submission to BC government’s 2012 coastal ferries consultation

Ten years ago this month the BC government unveiled a brand new, not-quite-arms-length coastal ferry model. It promised jobs, economic development, modest fare increases and better service – all with no new public debt. The legislation included a move toward greater user pay, in order to reduce the Province’s contribution to coastal ferry service.

The model has failed to achieve its goals. This verdict is based on what we have been hearing for years from an overwhelming number of residents of the communities and users of the ferry routes we represent.

These points are a summary of views, framed by the government’s goals for the current model, followed by our recommendations.

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10th anniversary fix for failing ferry model

12 DECEMBER 2012 – Ten years ago this week, the BC government unveiled a brand new, not-quite-arms-length coastal ferry system. It promised jobs, economic development, modest fare increases and better service – all with no new public debt.

That anniversary coincides with this week’s wrap-up of government’s whirlwind ferry consultation tour. The community tour was meant to talk about ways to save money. But residents and business people ended up delivering a verdict on the ferry experiment: the model has failed to achieve its goals.

“While we’re pleased the government is finally talking to the communities the model is supposed to serve, we’re disturbed by the large gap between government’s view of the system and ferry users’ reality,” says Tony Law, of the Hornby-Denman Ferry Advisory Committee. Continue reading

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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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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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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