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Fares a top concern at low-key ferries forum in Victoria

Dec 06 2012

When it come to B.C. Ferries, Barry Mayhew just wants to get from point A to point B cheaply and safely.

"B.C. Ferries has tried to create cruise ship amenities," said Mayhew, a former economic development commissioner for the City of Victoria. "But why do you need a stateroom for an hour and a half crossing?

And to hell with all these fancy restaurants. That's my view."

Mayhew made the comments Wednesday in Victoria at a B.C. Ferries and Ministry of Transportation open house held to ask the public how to cut $26-million worth of ferry service over the next four years.

Mayhew diligently filled out a form, outlining his concerns over overstaffing, labour costs, the "ridiculously high" salaries paid to executives and the need to reduce the number of ferries from October to March.

Kevin Richter, assistant deputy minister for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, has heard suggestions about changing ferry schedules, having better transportation connections for walk-on passengers and cutting back on services.

"But B.C. Ferries makes additional revenue selling food and selling goods," he said. "It's about $7 million in ancillary revenues."

Richter has been travelling through coastal B.C. attending these meetings since Nov. 6.

On Wednesday, he chatted with a few people, answering questions about the highway system and other ferry systems.

"The one message I've been hearing loudly is affordability of the system. People are very concerned about affordability," Richter said.

People have told him that when they ask their families to visit Vancouver Island, cost is an issue, he said.

"They look for opportunities to travel elsewhere."

Garry Coons, MLA for the North Coast and opposition ferry critic, found the low-key Victoria meeting was different from Gulf Island meetings, where ferries are essentially a lifeline.

"A huge concern is with businesses and chambers and the economy of the province. Victoria is more focused on that," he said.

Some people think the focus should change from ferries being a vehicle-mover to a passenger-mover, Coons said.

"Some think we should be more progressive and looking at moving passengers and improving infrastructure at both ends to move them," he said.

Bruce Carter, chief executive officer of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, said the biggest concern is the continuing rise in rates that affects ridership and has a significant economic impact on the Island.

"Put that on top of cutbacks on major routes - which are [financially] performing routes - to save money. From a fiscal perspective it doesn't make sense," Carter said.

Online feedback forms can be found at coastalferriesengagement.ca and submitted until Dec. 21.


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