Ferry fares and lack of consultation
B.C. Ferries Commissioner Gordon Macatee continued a tour of ferry-dependent coastal communities with a public meeting at the Gallery at Artisan Square Saturday, Oct. 15. Macatee and deputy commissioner Sheldon Stoilen sought input to a report they are assembling on the Coastal Ferry Act and the rising cost of ferry fares.
The two spoke with and listened to over 30 islanders, including councillors Alison Morse, David Wrinch and Doug Hooper, outgoing FAC chair Kim DeSante and incoming chair Adam Holbrook. Macatee began by saying that he and Stoilen are neither part of the government nor employees of B.C. Ferries but fact-finders sent to learn and present findings.
Macatee called it a “re-thinking” of the Coastal Ferry Act and while he is not in a position to know if their recommendations will be acted on, he feels the fact the government delayed implementation of a four-year rise in fares was a positive sign. The government’s stated intention is to consider changes to the ferry act after examining the report, which the commissioner will deliver sometime early next year.
It is the first such review of the act since its inception in 2003.
Ferry fares were scheduled to rise 4.1 per cent on major routes and up to 8.2 per cent on minor routes, for four years; however, a one-year price cap has seen them rise across the board by 4.1 per cent. The decision on the following three years will take place only after Macatee’s report has been tabled and debated by the legislature.
The Coastal Ferry Act was created in 2003 when B.C. Ferries was made into a private company, owned by the province, with a stated view of keeping fares low and supporting island tourism, economies and lifestyles. The reverse has occurred, with fares rising in some areas as much as 125 percent. Ridership is down and island economies are experiencing declines not seen in non-ferry-dependent communities.
Not surprisingly a primary concern raised by islanders was fares. Morse, Hooper, DeSante, Wrinch and Holbrook, along with citizens such as Duncan Phillips, Lois McLaren, John Dumbrille and Stacy Beamer, and others, spoke to the issue of rising fares and how that has impacted the community.
Many noted highway costs are not absorbed by the communities that use them the most, but by taxpayers across the province, as they are considered essential services. Ferry service was previously considered an extension of highways but that philosophy has been supplanted with the Coastal Ferry Act, with the result, speakers told Macatee, that the act has failed the communities it serves.
DeSante told the commissioners the cost of riding the ferry has increased 100 per cent for islanders since 2001, before the act was created, yet the government’s contribution has virtually stayed the same. The result, he said, is that islanders are forced to use the ferry less and a cycle is created whereby fares are raised again in a move to offset the dwindling ridership.
Another issue alluded to was a lack of consultation with Bowen when new policy and changes to service are being considered. Issues included the ferry renovations, the 10-minute ticket cut-off and the locked village gate at Horseshoe Bay. McLaren, Dawn Smoke, Florrie Levine and others, spoke of how the locking the gate has impacted ferry users.
Here DeSante called upon Macatee to include in his report the need for an agency islanders can turn to for a voice on policy. “Hopefully out of this review we can get something, an agency of some kind, where we can go to debate these issues,” De Sante said.
For her part, Councillor Morse said she believes the commissioners are “trying to find good solutions to the concerns that are being voiced that fall within their mandate.” She feels the big question is, “will the government implement (their) recommendations.”
After over two hours, Macatee had to leave - for the 12:30 ferry - but Stoilen, a resident of Bowen, continued talking with islanders. The two have been visiting coastal communities since early August and said they will take submissions until sometime around the middle of December, at which time they will begin to finalize their report.