The Queen of Powell River heads back to Campbell River from Quadra Island

MLA rides contrasting ferries

North Island Claire Trevena likes the 'part of the highways' and 'build them at home' philosophies

There was nothing special about the no-frills ferry rides through Puget Sound, but at the end of the day North Island MLA Claire Trevena had a lot more money left in her jeans.

“Six ferry crossings: $97,” she said in the aftermath of her five-day fact-finding tour of the Washington State ferry system.

In contrast, six separate crossings on a selection of BC Ferry routes will set a traveller back a few hundred bucks. That is if they choose to pay the price.

For instance, consider this recent quote from Seattle Times travel editor Kristin Jackson who used to gripe about her state’s ferry system until she paid the price in B.C., “The B.C. ferry was newer and spiffier than Washington State’s ships, but so what? To pay more than $200 round-trip makes a big dent in a travel budget.”

That’s the point Trevena is also trying to make with B.C.’s Liberal government. As Transportation Critic for the New Democrats, it’s her job to  criticize and scrutinize the government’s plans and policies, but this time she’s also going to offer suggestions for improvement.

“I will have report ready in a few weeks that I will present to the government and it will also be available to the public,” she said Wednesday.

As a long-time Quadra Island resident, Trevena is well-acquainted with the daily ferry commute. She says the rising fares cause financial hardship for business, families and people on limited incomes.

“We have strong economies on the coast, but they’re being stifled by BC Ferries,” she stated.

Trevena likes Washington’s low-cost, no-frills model that essentially makes ferries part of the highway system. She also pointed out that coastal communities, which rely on the ferries, speak “with one voice” which makes for a far more effective lobby effort in the state legislature.

However, while B.C. ferry users complain about rising fares and the hefty bonuses for executives, Washington State has its own issues.

So far this year, more than 80 trips on different routes have been cancelled because the ferry system is under-staffed.

Even worse is its aging fleet of ships which will need to be replaced over the next 20 years at an estimated cost of $4.2 billion.

Then there’s the socialist aspect of Washington State ferry policy that appeals to New Democrats, like Trevena, and likely appalls most free-enterprise-thinking Liberals; and that’s the policy of building new ferries in Washington State only.

Trevena said it provides jobs and keeps tax money within the state, plus it supports a vast number of apprenticeships which is critical in a time when the skilled labour force is quickly diminishing.

That said, pundits south of the border point out say the policy costs the state tens of millions more than needed. Nevertheless, said Trevena, it’s something B.C. should consider too.

“Ship building is part of their social and economic infrastructure,” she said.

“In B.C., after 10 years of the Coastal Ferries Act, it’s time for the Liberals to admit it doesn’t work.”