COLUMN: Only passengers keep ferries afloat

WRIGHT TURN

We want it all, but we don’t want to pay for it. That’s more or less the mindset for the average critic of B.C. Ferries.

Cut sailings? No way.

Raise fares? Heck no (yet it happens anyway).

Eliminate jobs or freeze wages? Nope, can’t do that.

More tax dollars to prop up the quasi-private corporation? About as much chance as a snowball fight with Satan.

This province’s favourite whipping boy – David Hahn (he of the million-dollar annual salary and double-dipped, gold-plated pension) – made headlines yet again recently after revealing that summer traffic on B.C. Ferries dipped to the lowest levels in decades.

Dismal first-quarter financials – net losses of $5.5 million as of June’s end compared to profits of almost $1 million a year earlier – prompted Hahn to warn this week that the situation will likely be far worse than earlier projections of a $20-million loss over the year.

That led to discussion of major cutbacks at the ferries, with Hahn pointing to reducing capital expenditures and discretionary spending. The company later added it’s looking at major reductions in the sailing schedules.

While the cynics will likely scoff and suggest the first cutbacks should be made to Hahn’s rich salary and that of his top executives, cuts to weak sailings on the major routes are a logical move.

Cue the standard cries from Island politicians and business advocates about how eliminating sailings will devastate our economic livelihood and lay waste to our tourism industry, but those arguments just don’t float.

We’re talking about a few, already underused sailings during off-peak months, not the busy boats that are packed to capacity during summer and other holidays.

For trucks bringing the various goods we consumers rely on, there are plenty of sailings.

Granted, the handful of riders who do ride the near-empty boats will certainly be inconvenienced, but from a taxpayer (yes, we’re still the sole shareholder) perspective, it is a ridiculous, wasteful expenditure to keep these sailings afloat.

We don’t tolerate other public transportation systems like transit bus routes that have chronicly meagre usage, and we’re requiring our promised commuter rail route on the old E&N tracks to have a critical mass of riders, so why wouldn’t we expect the same of our ferries?

Once we get rid of those few costly sailings, will there really be a big impact? No.

Anyone riding those ferries simply changes their schedules to accommodate the boats that are available.

The hew and cry about our economy being shattered is simply nuts. If our economic well-being is so fragile that cutting the odd ferry link here and there sends us into an irreversible tailspin, we’ve got bigger economic stability issues to contend with.

In fact, given the overall state of global economy, the argument for keeping vacant ferries running is utterly backward – we’re demanding fiscal restraint everywhere in order to weather this storm, including calls for better management of our ferries, yet every measure that’s suggested to do just that is rejected.

There’s no question major mistakes in B.C. Ferries were made.

We suffered the FastCat fiasco from the previous NDP regime. Then, after the B.C. Liberals put the company at arm’s length as a not-so-private corporation, it went out and ordered three new vessels from foreign shipbuilders that now spend more time docked than sailing due to high fuel costs.

We’re definitely overpaying the corporation’s top man and we’ll continue overpaying him once he retires.

Running ferries with more crew than there are paid passengers is another mistake.

Eliminate those sailings. Save the wasted money.

editor@nanaimobulletin.com

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