September 10, 2014 10:15 pm
Updated: September 11, 2014 5:48 pm

BC Ferries fare hike impacts economy: report

A new socio-economic study shows BC Ferries is the only public transit system in B.C. that is losing customers and has been for almost a decade.

Global News/File

BC Ferries fare increases are costing the province billions of dollars according to a new report released today by the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM).

The new socio-economic study shows BC Ferries is the only public transit system in B.C. that is losing customers and has been for almost a decade. Every other transit system, which has faced similar economic forces, have increased their ridership.

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Looking at the fare increases from 2003 to 2013, the report reveals a series of hikes during that resulted in a $2.3 billion reduction in the province’s GDP.

“I’m not satisfied with the continuation of fare increases on BC Ferries, certainly not at the rate and pace that we’ve seen over the last decade,” said Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone.

The report estimates that if BC Ferries had raised fares from 2003 to 2013 to the equivalent of the inflation rate, passenger volumes would have grown by 19 per cent. That increased ridership would have added $2.3 billion to the province’s GDP, but that’s not what happened.

“What did happen because of the way it was handled, and the fact that the rate increase far exceeded the inflationary rate, [is] ridership went down by 11 per cent,” Larry Cross, Mayor of Sidney, told Global News. 

“So we’re looking at a 30 per cent differential from potential to what actually is.”

Even though BC Ferries reported a $13 million profit last quarter, it still does not help the situation.

“We’re losing ground again by six per cent this year,” Cross says. “If the rates go up next year, they may show a little better on their books but traffic will go down. So this ratio hasn’t changed it one little bit.”

A fare increase of another 3.9 per cent is already approved for 2015. The report predicts passenger traffic will continue to fall through to 2016. In turn, the UBCM would like fares reduced, not increased, and for B.C. and Ottawa to increase subsidies.

“Governments are one of the prime beneficiaries of BC Ferries operations in terms of their own revenue stream,” says NDP deputy spokesperson BC Ferries critic Gary Holman. “So this is a very important conclusion.”

But Stone said “this doesn’t just involve the often suggested and quite simplistic solution of government opening up the cheque book and stroking a bigger cheque.”

Also of note in the report is when the public rides the Seabus or SkyTrain, passengers are only paying roughly half the actual cost of running those systems.  But passengers on BC Ferries pay anywhere from 75 to 90 per cent of the real cost of operations.

~ with files from Ted Chernecki

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