Those pricey islands in the stream

The pandora's box of B.C. Ferries costs has been opened

BC Ferries’ newest ships at Swartz Bay terminal: the main routes make a profit

BC Ferries’ newest ships at Swartz Bay terminal: the main routes make a profit

Carolyn Grant

A public consultation process is about to begin on the B.C. Ferry Service. Faced with declining ridership and rising costs, the B.C. government is asking for public input to inform decisions about service adjustments that will ensure coastal ferry services are sustainable and able to meet the unique needs of coastal communities.

Essentially, ferry users are going to be consulted on which routes could be eliminated, or severely cut back, in order to save some $26 million a year. There is also the looming prospect of having to replace the fleet with newer vessels at some point,  hopefully with a little more research than that time the brain trust decided fast ferries were the answer.

Now I doubt that they are going to come this far inland to ask me for an opinion, but you’ll be happy to know that I am prepared to provide one anyway.

Taxpayer contributions to B.C.’s ferry service are $180 million this year. Some of that money is mine so I feel compelled to offer my two cents. What will we offer when the penny is phased out, by the way?

Now on first hearing of this consultative process I couldn’t help but think of what I paid for my last ferry trip, just last month as I headed to Vancouver Island to visit family.

I paid $63.10 each way. If you have an extra passenger in your car, add another $14.85 each way. That’s $77.95 each way. Commercial vehicles pay $5.60 per foot. If you are on one of the flagship ferries, “Spirit of British Columbia” or “Spirit of Vancouver Island”, your car joins 469 other vehicles and 2,100 passengers. At $63.10 plus $14.85 per person each way. Or $5.60 per foot commercial.

You do the math. No, seriously, you do the math, it makes my brain hurt.

How can a ferry corporation not make money charging that much, with that many vehicles and people aboard? Not to mention what they charge in the gift shop for a deck of BC Ferry playing cards.

The answer is, they can make money. The Vancouver to Victoria and Nanaimo routes, from either Tsawwassen or Horseshoe Bay make millions.

It’s the smaller routes that are in trouble, despite being subsidized by the larger, money-making routes. BC Ferries has 35 vessels servicing 48 locations on B.C.’s coast. Yes, the island-dwellers are at the root of the problem, those folk who insist on dwelling behind the back of beyond, so as to be free throw a pot, or plant it. No, no, don’t write me any nasty letters about your aunt on Cortez Island. I know island dwellers are great people. Unfortunately, transporting these great people from one island to another to the mainland is costing a great deal of money that BC Ferries doesn’t have.

So they want to consult with coastal people and island dwellers about how much pain they are prepared to put up with in order to continue to live a two-ferry trip from the mainland.

The government consultation will ask residents if they support cable ferries, passenger-only service, bridges, property-tax increases or fuel-tax hikes to support ferry service.

It’s a difficult situation. You can’t ask people to move simply because the only route off their island is too expensive to service. You can’t build a bridge linking every island, although there are a few places a bridge may be the answer.

But one thought keeps occurring to me. People who depend solely on ferry service for access to the mainland are paying through the nose for it. And people who have alternate routes but may enjoy a ferry ride across, say Kootenay Lake, on a lovely summer day, don’t pay a dime. BC’s interior ferry routes are free.

There’s an answer here somewhere. What could I be missing?

Carolyn Grant is the Editor of the Kimberley Daily Bulletin

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