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Ferry costs 'out of control'
Regional District of Nanaimo chair Joe Stanhope has added his voice to a chorus of complaint by his coastal communities colleagues about an impending rise in ferry rates.
Stanhope was among the Coastal Regional District Chairs Group that met in Victoria on March 12 with the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI), and separately with opposition MLAs, to discuss the recently released Ferry Consultation Report.
Mary Polak, MOTI minister, advised that although she recognized the challenges and regarded affordability as a key component of the sustainability of BC Ferries, there would be no more funding available this year and probably none in 2014. She also noted there would be service cuts.
In an interview, Stanhope said something has to be done to deal with ferry fares, which he called “past the tipping point” and a very real threat to the Vancouver Island economy.
“This is serious,” he said. “There’s no question about it. Ferry costs have gone out of control. This is not so much a thing for ferry users. It’s affecting our whole economy, it’s affecting our tourism and our real estate, particularly on Quadra and even on Gabriola Island.”
Even people on the Island who don’t use the ferries are impacted, Stanhope continued, because most products are shipped from the mainland.
Stanhope contrasted the four per cent fare increase that kicks in April 1 to the free ferry transport available in the B.C. interior.
“It wasn’t too long ago in my lifetime the government took over the ferries and Premier Bennett said they were part of the highway system,” he said. “Now, the province spends over $20 million a year on the free ferries in the interior and they just bought a $20 million ferry for a 30-minute crossing in the Kootenays.”
Stanhope isn’t sure what the answer is, but he said a further subsidy to the coastal ferry system is clearly a part of it.
“It’s about fairness,” he said. “We’re paying for the Interior ferries and if you look at what it would cost taxpayers across B.C., it wouldn’t be that big an item.”
At the meeting with opposition MLAs Maurine Karagianis, Claire Trevena and Nicholas Simons, all chairs expressed their views on the ferry system’s effects on their respective regions. The MLAs advised the Chairs Group that, if the NDP was to form the next government, they would like to make significant changes in the operations of the coastal ferry service as they were not satisfied with the high fares which were affecting the local economies.
MLA Karagianis also advised that there would have to be a thorough review of the province’s finances before any actions could be put in place.