Prince Rupert city council is holding off on a recommendation to raise the fees for passengers of the Digby Island Ferry.
Chief financial officer Corinne Bomben said the idea behind raising fares to the airport is related to improving the overall passenger experience while taking some of the burden off the taxpayers of Prince Rupert.
“We are looking to increase the ferry fees to compensate for increased costs such as fuel and wages and at least bring it back to on par with what it was in 2012. This way we are charging the users a little more for the service and not subsidizing the operation quite as extensively through property taxes as not everybody uses the Digby Island Ferry Service,” she said.
“Additionally we recognize that the service needs some upgrading, new buses and that sort of thing. We did send out a request for proposal (RFP) and in that we requested new buses so we can have a better service for our citizens and for visitors to our community. Obviously we have some constraints, being the ramps at the docks themselves, and therefore we need some buses with a specialized weight load. The buses included in the RFP require us to increase the fees by roughly 50 cents per year each way.”
Increasing costs by 50 cents per passenger each was would bring in an additional $35,000, but council had a number of concerns.
“Buses are contracted out to a contractor and I have been told that in the last contract or the one previous to that there would be a change in buses because of the old Blue Bird school bus and other things. If it is a private contractor, why are we upping the fee to supply buses,” said Coun. Barry Cunningham, with Bomben responding that only one contractor responded to the RFP and the current contract expired in 2004.
“What I am concerned about is buying a bus for a private contractor and the contractor uses it not just for the bus service they supply to Digby but also to service they provide for other uses,” said Coun. Joy Thorkelson.
Coun. Gurvinder Randhawa said his concern had to do with an increased fee driving even more people to using the Terrace-Kitimat Airport.
“Already a lot of people fly from Terrace and if we increase the cost more people will fly from Terrace so we could have less money at the end of the day,” he said.
“We already have a lot of leakage to Terrace and it is mostly families, the business people will use it regardless,” echoed Cunningham.
In the end, council decided to table the fee increase until it had more information available.
The discussion came just days after a report commissioned by the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce showed the lack of capacity on the ferry could drive industry to use the airport in Terrace.