FERRY travellers, including those heading out of West Vancouver's Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, should brace for future service cuts.
Transportation Minister Mary Polak said Tuesday some under-used ferry runs will definitely be on the chopping block as the corporation looks to trim $26 million in the next three years.
"This is not if," she told reporters. "We know there are reductions in service that need to be made."
"If we don't do that we will not ever achieve the size of (cost) reduction we need to see."
But Polak said the province will consult with the public before deciding exactly how and when those cuts will come into effect - likely not until after the next provincial election.
Polak made the comments Tuesday following the release of a report from earlier public consultation on the future of the ferry corporation, held in November and December.
Results of that report indicate the service cuts won't be popular.
In public meetings conducted mostly in communities served by B.C. Ferries - including Bowen Island and the Sunshine Coast - about half of the people responding to questions were opposed to service cuts.
Support for the cuts was higher - about 60 per cent - among 500 people polled randomly in the general public.
Most people who took part in the consultation supported measures like standardizing vessels and docks, using more passenger-only ferries and looking into retrofitting ferries to run on alternative fuel like liquefied natural gas. Building bridges was also floated as a possible idea in some cases.
People in ferry-dependent communities were strongly opposed to raising property taxes or imposing fuel taxes to help pay for ferries, however, arguing they already pay for ferries through their provincial taxes.
Most of those people said it's up to the province to make up any ferries funding shortfall.
Polak, however, said the government has already kicked in extra money to avoid the prospect of skyrocketing fares.
The province currently subsidizes ferry operations by about $150 million each year in exchange for certain guaranteed levels of service.
During the consultation last fall, a group representing coastal ferry users recommended fares on some routes be cut by up to 25 per cent.
Among the challenges faced by the ferry corporation are ballooning debt-servicing costs - covering everything from new ferries to terminal upgrades - which have almost tripled from $68 million a year to $193 million a year in the past eight years, according to the ferry users group.
The cost of fuel has also skyrocketed, from $50 million a year to $121 million a year in the same time period.
Labour remained the largest expense for B.C. Ferries, growing from $252 million a year in 2004 to $257 million annually in 2012.
A review by the B.C. Ferry Commissioner last year identified declining ridership and falling revenue as significant challenges facing the corporation.