THE provincial government is being asked to approve a plan that would see BC Ferries slash up to 400 sailings a year on major routes, including those between Horseshoe Bay and Vancouver Island.
BC Ferries CEO David Hahn announced last month the corporation is looking at cutting extra weekend sailings on major routes during the off-season to meet a forecast $35 million deficit. The corporation is unexpectedly awash in red ink after originally projecting a deficit of just $20 million for the fiscal year.
BC Ferries lost $5.5 million in its first quarter this year, compared to a profit of $900,000 in the same period last year.
Passenger trips have recently dropped to a 20-year low while vehicle traffic is at an 11-year low.
The company has blamed the financial woes on a slow economy that has kept tourists away.
But critics have pointed to soaring fare costs as a more likely reason fewer travellers are using the service.
Roger Burgon, who lives in West Vancouver and often takes the ferry to his Pender Island cottage, is one of those critics. "Fare increases have been astronomical" in recent years, said Burgon.
"The ferries should be part of the transportation system," he said. But instead, the corporation is "acting like a bully, cutting service, jacking up fares then moaning to the taxpayer. It's nonsense."
Burgon said that those moves are being made while "obscene salaries and benefits" are being paid to senior ferry managers just adds insult to injury.
Hahn told reporters if approved, most of the reductions in ferry service would come from cutting extra sailings from major routes on Fridays and Sundays during the off-season.
Under the terms of its contract, the B.C. government has to approve the cuts before they can take effect.
The provincial government currently pays a subsidy of about $125 million to BC Ferries to run the service.
Fares will also continue rising if a preliminary ruling made public by the ferry commissioner this spring is put into place.
That decision called for annual hikes ranging from four per cent on major routes - like the ones between West Vancouver and Nanaimo - and more than eight per cent on minor routes such as the sailing to Bowen Island.
Those increases would work out to total rise of almost 18 per cent and more than 37 per cent respectively over the next four years, after they are compounded.
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