UBCM supports ferry fare cuts

Unanimous support from B.C. local governments on ferry issues

All regions of B.C. are calling on the province to put BC Ferries back under the provincial highway ministry after UBCM’s scathing report on ferry fares and cutbacks was unanimously supported at last week’s UBCM convention.

The report revealed that rising ferry fares have contributed to a decrease in ridership and as a result, has lost the province $2.3 billion in economic growth.

Jim Abram, regional district director for Quadra Island and a member of the committee that oversaw the UBCM report, said the paper was supported by all who voted on it.

The report’s recommendations to put BC Ferries back under the jurisdiction of the ministry of transportation and infrastructure and to roll back fares to 2013 levels was also supported.

“That’s all the people from the Interior governments and far flung governments that have no ferry service but yet support the concept of making the marine highway part of the ministry of transportation,” Abram said. “They fully supported reduced fares and cancelling the reduction of ferry sailings.”

But transportation minister Todd Stone wrote in a four-page letter to UBCM president Rhona Martin that the report, done by Peter Larose of Larose Research and Strategy, is irresponsible.

“It was irresponsible for UBCM to publicly release a document which outlines an unsubstantiated and sensational $2.3 billion impact on the provincial economy,” wrote Stone.

Abram said Stone’s letter is ridiculous.

“It was such a ridiculous thing to say because those facts are so substantiated that no one could dispute it and the ironic thing is they’ve never done an economic assessment to dispute it,” Abram said. “All (Stone) did was bad mouth the report.”

Larose met with more than 400 local governments, chambers of commerce, ferry advisory committees and other stakeholders in coming to his findings.

Findings that fare increases between 2003 and 2013, which resulted in a drop in ridership, resulted in a cumulative loss of $609 million in tax revenues – $325 million to the federal government, $231 million to the provincial government and $53 million to local governments.

The report also found that had fare increases been limited to the rate of inflation from 2003 to 2013, it’s estimated that passenger volumes on BC Ferries would have grown 19 per cent over the time period to 25.7 million in 2013 compared to the actual ridership of 19.9 million in 2013.

While Minister Stone agreed with one aspect of the report – that there is a link between fares and traffic levels – he said the province still plans to move forward with another fare increase, according to Abram.

“The best Todd Stone would say is that they understood now, after 10 years, that ridership is connected to an increase in fares and that in 2016 they will look at keeping fare increases to the rate of inflation,” Abram said. “In the meantime, they will do another four per cent increase this next year.”

But Abram isn’t holding his breath that there will be any relief from rising ferry fares.

“They will consider the rate of inflation as a cap, that doesn’t mean they’re going to do it,” Abram said. “In the meantime, how many businesses are we going to lose? How many residents? How many property assessments are going to go down?”

Abram said the fight isn’t over.

“I’m starting to pursue ideas on my ‘what’s next’ list today, so this is far from over,” Abram said. “We have the UBCM’s support, we have the population of the province’s support, we just need the government’s support.”