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B.C. Ferries allowed to increase fares a total of 12% over three years

Oct 02 2012
The independent ferry commissioner has given B.C. Ferries permission to increase fares in each of the next three years. 

The independent ferry commissioner has given B.C. Ferries permission to increase fares in each of the next three years.

Photograph by: Victoria Times Colonist , File

Ticket prices are going up again at B.C. Ferries.

The ferry corporation said Monday it intends to raise rates 4.1 per cent in April, the maximum that  independent ferry commissioner Gordon Macatee is allowing.

In light of capital expenditures and operating  costs, the corporation needs to raise ticket prices by maximum that’s allowed, said B.C. Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall.

It’s the latest in a series of fare hikes to hit customers, as the troubled ferry corporation struggles with financial losses, expensive ferry-replacement plans and a 21-year-low in passenger traffic.

But the increases would have been “considerably higher” had the provincial government not recently changed ferry legislation — which previously saw higher increases on minor routes — and injected

$80 million into ferry operations, said Macatee.

The commissioner also authorized fare hike maximums of four per cent in 2014 and 3.9 per cent in 2015 — for a total increase of 12 per cent over the next three years.

It currently costs a family of four — two adults, two children under 11 and a vehicle — approximately $188 for a round trip between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen, not including a two per cent fuel surcharge and taxes. The increase next year will add almost $8 to the round trip.

“The increases are pretty much what we expected, but it doesn't make them palatable because, as the commissioner pointed out in his report last year, the fares have already reached their tipping point,” said Tony Law, chairman of the Ferry Advisory Committee, which represents coastal communities and Gulf Islands.

“It’s going to have quite an impact on our communities.”

Tourism Victoria CEO Rob Gialloreto agrees fares are at a tipping point, and said the perception of expensive ferry rides can deter visitors from the Lower Mainland.

B.C. Ferries lost $16.5 million last fiscal year.

The company, which operates as a quasi-private corporation but also receives taxpayer funding, says it needs to find $83.2 million in service cuts and internal efficiencies over the next four years.

B.C. Ferries cut 98 round trips on major routes this month, mainly between Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen and Duke Point-Tsawwassen, but that’s only expected to save $1 million a year.

The independent ferry commissioner also said Monday he wants B.C. Ferries to file a plan within 30 days to reduce fuel consumption and explore alternative fuel sources. Marshall said B.C. Ferries executives have already been looking at the costs and benefits of liquefied natural gas, and will comply with the commissioner’s request.

The government is expected to soon launch a public-consultation tour to discuss ferry-service changes.

NDP critic Maurine Karagianis called the price hikes “one more shock wave for consumers.”

“I think there’s going to be huge resistance to this,” she said. “It’s become just too expensive for people to take the ferries back and forth.”

An NDP government would launch a comprehensive review of the entire ferry system and make it part of B.C.’s highway system, she said.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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