Quadra Islanders can no longer afford ferry fares, according to North Island NDP MLA Claire Trevena, after the province increased costs again last week.
The B.C. government passed legislation to cap fare hikes at 4.15 per cent on all routes for 2012-2013 while BC Ferries Commissioner Gord Macatee conducts a review of the ferry system that will focus on fares increases. Macatee announced his review after BC Ferries said it wanted to increase fares by 37 per cent on minor routes over four years, starting April 2012.
But Trevena believes there should be a freeze on ferry prices while the review is ongoing.
“This legislation allows for a 4.15 per cent increase and it still allows a fuel surcharge increase of two per cent, so we have a 6.5 per cent increase while the review is going ahead,” said Trevena. “I think it’s an outrageous thing.
“I’m hearing from people across the constituency that they should be rolling back fares, not increasing them.”
For one vehicle, a driver and one passenger to sail from Campbell River to Quadra and back is nearly $40, which is just too much for young families, said Trevena.
“People can’t afford these fares,” she said. “People are trying to raise families and they want to take their kids swimming and have them participate in sports; they want to do things on the big island but they have to pay big fares, leaving them with less money for the necessities of life.”
Trevena said on the Campbell River/Quadra Island run, fares have increased 124 per cent over the past five years, much faster than disposable incomes.
“It’s just not sustainable for people living in ferry-dependent communities,” said Trevena. “On Quadra, people simply cannot maintain those fares and not only does it affect the lives of people living on the Island but it will have a huge impact on tourism.”
She figures hefty fares will turn potential visitors away and hurt businesses on Quadra Island which she said are already starting to struggle because of ferry costs.
Trevena said she hopes when the commissioner conducts his review, Macatee considers the huge increases people living in coastal communities have already had to bear.
“I would hope the ferry commissioner realizes what’s happening is completely irresponsible and accepts that the ferries are part of our province’s highway system, and that the fares are unsustainable and should be rolled back,” said Trevena.
Last week, as MLA’s sat in the legislature, Trevena told the government that there is huge inequity in the way government supports the highway infrastructure in BC: roads and bridges are maintained with public funds but it is a user pay system for the ferries.
“I hope the commissioner realizes that B.C. Ferries became the way it was, by W.A.C. Bennett, because ferries were not seen to be a profitable proposition. Ferries were seen as part of our highway system,” she said. “They were not supposed to come in raking a profit. They were not supposed to come in as cruise ships. They were there to support and sustain our coastal communities”.
Macatee’s review of BC Ferries is expected to take six months and will contain recommendations.