Stating that the ferry system is in trouble because it has hit “an affordability spiral,” the Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs (FACC) has suggested a pilot proposal to the provincial government to increase traffic on minor, northern and Sunshine Coast routes.
“The province recognizes that action is needed, but its plan, to cut service, will have a minimal impact on the affordability spiral,” states the FACC. “The single biggest boost to coastal ferries would come from boosting traffic. We propose that the provincial government consider a pilot project for the remainder of this contract term. It would be to stop the decline in ferry traffic, and to start restoring the health of coastal communities.
“We believe the project will demonstrate conclusively that a return to affordable fares will raise traffic to the levels needed to assure sustainability of both BC Ferries and our communities.”
The FACC presented a submission called Coastal Ferries: An Unnecessary Crisis to the BC Government Budget 2014 Consultation Oct. 16 “to request that the provincial government adjust its plans for coastal ferry service, and increase funding in accord with increases for other public services.”
The FACC asks the government to review and adjust its plan so that it targets the core trouble: fares, falling traffic and government contribution, according to the submission.
In its submission, the FACC offers three possible pilot scenarios, to be applied to the minor, northern and Sunshine Coast routes. In all cases, revenue, regular and social program traffic and average fares are assumed to remain at the 2013 fiscal year levels.
Scenario A calls for freezing fares at 2014 levels for 2015 and 2016.
In Scenario B, fares would be rolled back 25 per cent in 2015 and then increased two per cent for 2016.
Scenario C calls for rolling back fares 13.4 per cent in 2015 and 2016.
Keith Rush, chair of the Chemainus-Thetis-Penelakut Ferry Advisory Committee, says 800,000 British Columbians depend on the ferries, which is 20 per cent of the province’s population.
“Currently, our bottom line with the government is fares have gone past the point of affordability for everyday folk,” said Rush.
In proposing the pilot scenarios, Rush says the FACC’s thinking is that lowering fares has worked in the past.
In 2010, BC Ferries eliminated the overheight fare class on all routes except the northern routes, and on a route like Duke Point, which is common for trucks, fares went down and traffic on that route has been steadily climbing, he explained.
“There’s a situation where BC Ferries has actually lowered the fares, and traffic has increased substantially,” said Rush. “That’s our thinking.”
The FACC is made up of the chairs, or their delegates, of the 13 coastal ferry advisory committees and represents the communities served by the 22 minor, northern and Sunshine Coast ferry routes.