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Trevena’s useful ferry comparison

We say: Do we want low fares and no frills ferry service?

MLA Claire Trevena’s excellent ferry adventure has come to a close and the North Island representative will be delivering a report to the legislature and the public.

Last month, Trevena conducted a five-day, fact-finding tour of the Washington State ferry system. Trevena was able to travel on six ferry routes in Washington and it cost her $97. By contrast, six routes in B.C. would cost a few hundred dollars. But Washington’s ferries are older and less luxurious.

Trevena’s visit raises a big issue that the ferry-travelling public (i.e., Vancouver Islanders) need to consider. Are we willing to accept no-frills ferry travel in exchange for lower fares? Washington’s fleet is older and the vessels are not as nice. But the cheaper fares come at a cost. The vessels will need to be replaced over the next 20 years at an estimated cost of $4.2 billion. We’ll see how low the fares remain after that replacement program gets underway – especially when Washington’s policy of building its ferries in Washington has its impact. While admirable and justifiable on many levels, local shipbuilding has not proven to be the most cost-effective in B.C. at any rate. Not to say that it couldn’t be but we all remember the Fast Ferry fiasco under the NDP’s last watch.

Washington has also had more than 80 trips on different routes cancelled because the ferry system is under-staffed. That’s not likely to happen with BC Ferries.

Still, Trevena’s tour serves to bring the ferry service debate to the legislature and to the public in an effective way. The concrete issues – or should we say the steel-hulled issues – have been spotlighted in that we need to include the travelling experience and the how much we’re willing to pay for that into the debate that is currently dominated by the exorbitant salaries of  BC Ferries executives.

We look forward to Trevena’s report.