Service consultations: questioning the point

30 OCTOBER 2012 – The ferry service consultation just launched by the provincial government is confusing, rushed, and missing key parts of the picture, say representatives of coastal ferry users.

In the light of what’s missing, the Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs (FACC) question the consultation goals.

“Yes, it’s worth discussing the Province’s two stated goals – how to save money, and a long-term vision for coastal transportation.” says Harold Swierenga of Salt Spring Island FAC. “But there are many holes and questionable assumptions in the picture of the situation as it’s presented.

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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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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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