FERRY fare increases of up to 12.5 per cent over the next three years aren’t good news for ferry-dependent communities, says a group representing coastal ferry users.
The fare hikes of four per cent per year announced Monday by the B.C. Ferry Commissioner call into question the province’s ability to keep a lid on increases, says the group made up of ferry advisory committee members.
The group points out the increases are twice the rate of inflation.
“Is everybody’s salary going up four per cent?” asked Alison Morse, a member of the Bowen Island ferry advisory committee.
Morse said ferry users are relieved the increases aren’t as much as the eight per cent that had originally been predicted for some smaller routes — such as the one from Horseshoe Bay to Bowen Island — by the previous ferry commissioner Martin Crilly.
But a four per cent increase could still dampen already-slumping ridership, she said.
Figures released earlier this summer put vehicle traffic at the lowest it's been in 13 years and passenger traffic at the lowest it's been in 21 years.
“The economies aren’t bounding back in a lot of coastal communities,” she said.
Fare increases over the past decade since the ferry system was privatized have already had a significant impact on communities like Bowen Island and the Sunshine Coast, where many people regularly commute by ferry through Horseshoe Bay to work, said Morse.
According to a recent study on Bowen, about 45 per cent of the people who work commute into Vancouver.
Fuel surcharges could still push the increases even higher than the four per cent increase, she noted.
The fare caps also come with conditions, including B.C. Ferries’ being able to find $54 million in “efficiencies” and make a further $30 million in service cuts over the next four years.
Some of those cuts will go into effect this weekend on under-used major routes. But the majority of cuts — to smaller money-losing routes — are still to be worked out between the ferry corporation and the province.
The ferry advisory group had hoped Ferry Commissioner Gord Macatee would cap the fare increases at the cost of inflation. But in order to do that “the province is going to have to put more money in,” said Morse.
That’s something the ferry user groups have long advocated. Compared to many other taxpayer-supported public infrastructure projects, ferries are a “bargain” at $150 million a year, the ferry advisory groups wrote Monday in a press statement.