Provincial transportation and ferry critic Claire Trevena was on the North Coast last week to hear from people about what impact changes to ferry service is having on their lives and the North Island MLA pulled no punches when it came to BC Ferries.
“The reason I organized this trip to be here on the ground is because my email box is full and my colleague Jennifer Rice is dealing daily with businesses that are struggling because of the increased costs and the service changes … it’s not just impacting tourism, it’s impacting the community economy and community opportunity. We live in coastal B.C. and we need to have that access to the rest of B.C. and our goods and services need to have that access,” she said.
“The losses to the province over the past 12 years with what has happened with BC Ferries is staggering. It is a sign of economic incompetence that this has been allowed to happen. I really am stunned by the fact that the government has allowed this to happen.”
With another fare increase scheduled for April and discussions with BC Ferries taking place about the next set of performance terms, Trevena said the province would be wise to “pay heed” and “demand a freeze in fares”.
“I think even freezing fares at the current level is leaving them too high. If we are freezing fares we need to look at what level we are freezing them at and how long we can keep them down there,” she said, noting the ferry system needs to be looked at as part of the province’s infrastructure.
“We’re paying not just for operating costs but for capital costs … they have to be investing in things like docks and making sure the fleet is renewed, refitted, safe and operating, but don’t download these costs directly on the user. You don’t have BC Transit downloading the cost of its compressed natural gas fleets and every single new interchange and depot down to the user, but on BC Ferries it all comes back to the user.”
Part of the problem, she said, is the ineffectiveness of the current legislation that created a quasi-private model for BC Ferries.
“What is very clear is that the Coastal Ferry Act, which has been in place since 2002, does not work … it is supposed to distance government from interference with the daily operations of BC Ferries. It was put up clearly that government was going to be hands off and BC Ferries was its own operator, but what we have seen increasingly and particularly under this new minister is not just hands-on but hands right inside day-to-day meddling,” she said.
“Let’s be honest, government has a role to play in BC Ferries and it should have a role to play in BC Ferries.”