BC Ferries clients won't be getting a break any time soon.
Despite unanimous support from B.C. municipalities calling on the provincial government to roll back ferry rates to 2013 levels, Transportation Minister Todd Stone ruled out the idea last week at the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Whistler.
This comes after the release of a study, commissioned by UBCM and AVICC, that found rising ferry prices have contributed to an estimated $2.3 billion in lost economic activity and an overall 11 per cent decrease in ridership in the last decade.
"It was disappointing," Joe Stanhope told The NEWS, referring to the province's rejection of a resolution unanimously endorsed by UBCM delegates, including mayors and councillors from all over the province.
"I don't think our message really got through," said Stanhope, chair of the Regional District of Nanaimo board. "This problem will not go away, UBCM is not going to let it go away — the consequences are too severe."
The report — Boatswains to the Bollards: A Socioeconomic Impact Analysis of BC Ferries — also concluded that if ferry rate hikes had been limited to the rate of inflation, passenger volumes would have grown by 19 per cent. In addition to recommending a rate reversal to last year's levels, the report also called on government to further conduct a socioeconomic analysis of the BC Ferries and recognize the coastal ferries as an extension of the highway.
“This is not just a Vancouver Island issue — the impacts (of raising ferry rates) affect the economy of the whole province,” said Stanhope. “Every industry is moaning and groaning about this.”
Stanhope said BC Ferries are “part of the transportation link” and Vancouver Island, as well as the coastal islands, have been “hit hard.”
However, Minister Stone took the report with a grain of salt calling it “irresponsible.”
“I am disappointed that UBCM and AVICC are using this analysis as the basis for a discussion at UBCM about the coastal ferry system,” Stone wrote in a letter responding to the report, addressed to UBCM president Rhona Martin.
“The analysis shows very little knowledge about the operation of ferry services. It understates the contributions made by government over the period in question and ignores the pressures facing the industry globally.”
Stone went on to describe the government’s so-called sustainable “vision for BC Ferries” as including LNG propulsion, passenger only ferries in complement to vehicle ferries, alternate technologies such as the cable ferry to Denman Island, changes to the seniors discount and fixed links (such as the Gabriola feasibility study).
But Stanhope stands by his word.
“The BC Ferries are part of the highway transportation system and the government saying they are not is nonsense,” he said, adding that he hopes the government conducts a socioeconomic study of their own on the affect of BC Ferries rate hikes. “We (UBCM) are carrying the banner for the whole province on this issue.”
Stanhope said “the premier (Christy Clark) has expressed a desire to meet with us (UBCM) in November which we will do” to further discuss BC Ferries and its overall effect on the province.
Stanhope said he is “guardedly optimistic” about the upcoming meeting.