Bob Cole

Bob Cole

Future ferry fare increases kept in check

NANAIMO – Keeping ferry fares under control is one of the facets of the provincial government's new 10-year transportation plan.

Keeping ferry fares under control is one of the facets of the provincial government’s new 10-year transportation plan.

B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone was in Nanaimo on Wednesday to discuss the document at a Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre.

The plan touches on all modes of transportation in B.C., and ferries are a focus, Stone said, suggesting the government wants to ensure the service is affordable and sustainable into the future.

He said he was “optimistic” about B.C. Ferries commissioner Gord Macatee’s preliminary decision later that day on ferry fare price caps, which were subsequently announced as 1.9 per cent per year from 2016-20. In comparison, fare increases were capped at 4.1 to 3.9 per cent between 2013-15. Stone said “driving downward pressure” on fares remains a priority.

“Fares cannot continue to increase as they have. We’re not just approaching a tipping point, we’re at the tipping point…” the minister said. “There is a correlation between fares and passenger levels. We’re acknowledging that.”

The ferry commissioner’s report finds that B.C. Ferries is positioned to exceed an internal-efficiencies target of $54 million, partly due to lowered administrative costs and reductions in executive compensation.

“B.C. Ferries has cut costs, exceeded its efficiencies targets and moved forward with key innovations, while ferry users accepted service level adjustments…” said Macatee in a press release. “Collectively, these measures took pressure off fares.”

Mike Corrigan, B.C. Ferries president and chief executive officer, said in a separate press release that keeping price caps in check is a major accomplishment considering the corporation’s $3-billion capital program and its safety and reliability commitments.

But a modest fare increase shouldn’t be something to celebrate, said Claire Trevena, North Island MLA and the NDP’s transportation critic.

“Fares are still going up. In two weeks’ times we’ve got a four-per cent increase,” she said. “This is on top of what have already been extraordinary hikes in ferry fares.”

She said the 1.9 per cent is an average and could vary by route, and noted that the figure is also predicated on increased ferry traffic at a time when ridership levels are at historic lows.

Trevena said “it’s inevitable” that Vancouver Island will be further isolated from the mainland as ferry fares rise.

“People [travelling] both ways think about it, and for us on the Island, we think twice,” she said.