Act Changes Set New Course for Ferries
May 10, 2012
(News Release) VICTORIA â€” In response to the independent BC Ferry Commissionerâ€™s review, the B.C. government yesterday introduced amendments to the Coastal Ferry Act.
The governmentâ€™s vision is to connect coastal communities in an affordable, efficient, and sustainable manner. Amendments to the act give the commissioner more flexibility to determine the amount of revenue needed to sustain operations and support ongoing investment. The commissioner will also be given additional responsibility to oversee the costs of providing the ferry service. These changes will help reduce the pressure on fares.Government agrees with the ferry commissioner that the interests of all parties must be reasonably balanced. Taxpayers, users, and the ferry operator need to contribute to solutions that link coastal communities affordably and efficiently.
While these are tough economic times and fiscal discipline must be maintained, government is committed to providing additional dollars to keep the system affordable. In addition to the legislative changes:
The government will increase its financial contribution to BC Ferries by $79.5 million to reduce the pressure for higher fares.
- BC Ferries will need to find efficiencies to reduce operating costs.
- There will be significant adjustments to service levels, and discussions with communities about trade-offs among service adjustments, fare increases and potential community contributions.
- In addition, government will seek public input to develop strategies to support a vision for connecting coastal communities.
â€śThe legislation ... builds upon the BC Ferry Commissionerâ€™s report and the concerns that the public have expressed about the affordability of BC Ferries," says Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Blair Lekstrom.
"Despite the fiscal challenges this government faces, we are providing an additional $79.5 million â€” significant funding â€” over the next four years. We are following a three-pronged approach balancing the interests of ferry users, taxpayers, and the ferry operator. I believe the changes we are making will address many of the issues identified, and I look forward to future discussions as we move forward to ensuring we have an affordable and sustainable B.C. ferry system.â€ť
The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce welcomed the changes to the Coastal Ferry Act.
â€śEnsuring that the ferry system continues to operate efficiently is a significant issue as in recent years the increases to fares has continually outstripped both the rate of inflation and the rate of economic growth. This has led to a situation that continues to test the ability of users to pay and has lead to increased costs to businesses, residents, and visitors alike,â€ť says Bruce Carter, CEO of the Victoria Chamber.
â€śThe Chamber agrees that a long-term vision for the service is required to help guide the systemâ€™s capital and operational planning in the future. From the chamberâ€™s perspective, a forward-looking discussion concerning BC Ferries as a 'connector of communities' is an important step to ensure that BC Ferries adapts to meet future needs, while maintaining a financially sustainable service.â€ť
The Chamber also supports the direction of allowing for improvements to capacity utilization. A review of the current contract, with the goal of providing more flexibility to BC Ferries regarding the level of service on routes, is also the right direction, including the recommendation that the commissioner be given authority to make changes based on a consideration of the interests of the ferry users, the taxpayer, and the financial sustainability of the ferry operator.
Coastal ferries are integral to the way of life for many British Columbians. For 52 years, British Columbiaâ€™s ferries have moved people and goods along the coast. However, travel patterns, demographics and coastal communities have changed, affecting how the ferry system is used. Like ferry systems around the world, it faces challenges of maintaining ridership amid rising operating costs, and changing customer preferences. Some routes in the current ferry system operate at less than 30 per cent of capacity, and some routes are losing millions of dollars despite annual government contributions. Without changes, the system is at considerable risk.
To ensure British Columbians have safe and reliable coastal transportation for future generations, long-term strategies will be developed and implemented. Future investments will look at providing greater interoperability of ferries between routes, reducing operating costs by implementing new technologies, such as LNG-fuelled and cable ferries, and allowing for alternative methods to connect coastal communities, such as passenger-only ferries and other service improvements.