In an effort to save millions of dollars over the next couple of years, the provincial government has announced a combination of service adjustments, a reduction in the seniors’ fare discount and a pilot project for a revenue-generating gaming program for BC Ferries.
They are changes that will affect people who use ferries to get to and from work every day, and they are changes that the Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs (FACC) say don’t address the main issue what they call the “root problem” – high fares, declining traffic and government underfunding.
The guiding principles behind all future decisions to affect the coastal ferry service will be based on “an affordable, efficient and sustainable system which protects basic service to coastal communities for future generations,” according to a press release from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
“Through the government of B.C., taxpayers have provided an additional $86.6 million to 2016 to help reduce the pressure on fares,” states the release. “That brings B.C. taxpayer funding to more than $180 million this year and to nearly $1.4 billion over the last 10 years to support coastal ferry services. In addition, BC Ferries has committed to find $54 million in efficiency improvements to 2016, $15 million more than the target set by the BC Ferry Commissioner, and is on track to meet this challenge.”
Over the next two years, $18.9 million in net savings are necessary to meet the requirements under the current price cap, according to the government. To do that, BC Ferries will undertake service reductions, to be implemented in two phases.
The first phase is service reductions to lower-use round-trip sailings on the minor route and on the higher-cost northern routes, which will be implemented in April 2014 and which are expected to account for $14 million in net savings.
BC Ferries will also implement further changes to the major routes before April 2016 to achieve $4.9 million in savings, according to the government, which notes that minor and northern routes will not be affected by these changes.
The planned changes would affect ferry users in Chemainus and on Thetis and Penelakut islands.
Effective April 1, 2014, Route 20 (Chemainus-Thetis-Penelakut) will lose the last round trip on Friday nights, as well as the 6:20 p.m./6:35 p.m. dedicated round trip between Chemainus and Thetis Island daily.
The provincial government also announced that a major capital investment is considered for Horseshoe Bay and analysis will continue on opportunities to achieve additional savings and efficiencies on the major routes between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, as well as on Southern Gulf Island routes.
One of the changes announced by the provincial government is that as of April 1, 2014, the current 100-per-cent passenger fare discount received by B.C. seniors 65 and older travelling Monday to Thursday will be reduced to 50 per cent on major and minor routes.
The provincial government is also considering the introduction of a pilot project to assess the viability of gaming as a permanent revenue-generating program on major routes between the Island the Lower Mainland.
Ferry users and the general public will have a chance to comment on these planned changes in the near future, as a new round of community engagement with BC Ferries is getting underway.
The FACC say the provincial government’s own information shows that the ferry rescue plan unveiled by Transportation Minister Todd Stone is based on numbers that don’t add up to a solution.
According to a press release from the FACC, the group is being asked to help tweak schedules to make the plan more workable, but tweaking won’t change the fact that the “root problems” remain.
“Even after the cuts, the system will still be unaffordable, unsustainable, and spiralling into deeper trouble. The government is causing people hardship without much to show for it,” says Brian Hollingshead of the Southern Gulf Islands. “Tweaking won’t change that.”
In their press release, the FACC note that in the business world, cutting costs to stay ahead of falling revenue without also fixing the cause of the falling revenue is a path to business failure.
“The cause of falling revenue for ferries is unaffordable fares and traffic decline, and chronic government underfunding,” they state. “The rescue plan does not fix this. Nor does it offer the FACC or coastal residents enough data and information to let them offer alternatives to the flawed government plan. The FACC ask the government to work with community representatives and local governments to find ways to fix the core problem with the system, to build a vision for the B.C. coast and a more solid plan for its essential transportation.”
As part of the community engagement, a public open house has been scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 11 from 5-9 p.m. at Forbes Hall on Thetis Island. A meeting will also be held Dec. 11 from 1-3 p.m. at the Adult Learning Centre on Penelakut Island. For this meeting, people are asked to RSVP by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 1-855-974-1204. For more information about the meetings, click here.