Ferries on the mind at UBCM

Thousands of politicians converge on Whistler for annual conference

Joe Stanhope wants BC Ferries routes restored and fares reduced.

The chair of the Regional District of Nanaimo, along with thousands of other municipal  politicians from throughout B.C., will be in Whistler this week for the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) convention and ferry service promises to be a hot topic.

A steady stream of BC Ferries fare increases has dramatically driven down ridership, costing the province’s GDP $2.3 billion over 10  years, according to a new report commissioned by the UBCM. The report analyzes the impact of fare increases on ridership levels and the overall impact of BC Ferries on the provincial economy. It found that while ridership is declining, most other forms of transportation in the province — including vehicle and air — are on the rise.

And it’s top of mind for Stanhope.

“It’s a pretty big issue,” Stanhope told The NEWS a few days before heading to the annual UBCM convention in Whistler (Sept. 22-26), where he vowed to pledge his support behind a resolution calling on the government to reconsider its policy of cutting service routes and hiking prices.

“If the ferry rate increases had been limited to the rate of inflation, passenger volumes would have grown by 19 per cent,” he said, citing the report. “But because they (ferry rates) were raised, ridership dropped 11 per cent.”

Stanhope said “the economy of the whole province is affected negatively.”  According to the study, the forgone economic activity resulted in an estimated total loss of $609 million in tax revenue (at all levels of government).

Moreover, the decline in ridership has been linked to declines in business corporations and housing starts in coastal communities — while population migration and real estate prices in coastal communities have also started a downward trend since 2009 compared to non-coastal communities.

“A lot of these coastal communities are withering on the vine,” said Stanhope. “It (fare increases) has affected the provincial economy and had a direct impact on tourism. It’s the whole of B.C. — all of these different sectors benefit directly or indirectly from people traveling, and they’ve been impacted negatively.”

The report, Boatswains to the Bollards: A Socioeconomic Impact Analysis of BC Ferries, will be presented at the UBCM conference.

Stanhope said he will support the recommendation at UBCM asking the province to restore 2013 ferry fares and service levels, conduct further socio-economic analysis building on the current data and recognize that the coastal ferries are an extension of the highway.