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Ferry increases lower than feared but still too high, opponents

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The BC Ferry Commissioner released his tentative decision on Friday to allow BC Ferries to fare prices on their northern routes by 34 per cent over four years, starting next year. These potential new price increases will be on top of the ones that are taking effect on April 1 (Friday), which will make a trip from Prince Rupert to Skidegate cost $147.00 in the peak season.

The commissioner also challenged BC Ferries to decrease its operating costs by $18.5-million.

Over the past several months, communities on the Haida Gwaii and the Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional District have been looking for ways to fight the increases. BC Ferries’ CEO, David Hahn originally asked the Ferry Commission for the ability to raise fares by 26 per cent a year, meaning fares would have more than doubled by 2016.

Even though the increases will only be a third of what was feared, opponents of the increases are not backing down.

Carol Kulesha is the mayor of Queen Charlotte and a member of the Regional District Board. She says that even if the fare increases are lower than what BC Ferries wanted, they still will very damaging to those living on the islands.

In a place where everyday goods have to be shipped in from the mainland, Kulesha worries that increased shipping costs will cause already high prices to climb even more. She expects that if the fare increases go ahead, prices on goods will climb to the point where people in her community will be forced to make some difficult lifestyle adjustments.

Kulesha says that the region will still be lobbying the provincial government to raise its subsidy for ferries so that it will get rid of the need for a fare increase.  The provincial is $92-million and has not increased since 2003, while the federal subsidy has increased with inflation.

Local MLA Gary Coons - who recently met with the Regional District board to discuss strategies for lobbying against the increases - is blaming the Liberals for not keeping their promise to ensure “modest, fair and predictable fare increases.”

“This is a huge, huge hit to families that live in coastal communities and rely on ferries as a essential service,” says Coons.

Coons is also criticizing the Liberals for agreeing to change the province’s Coastal Ferry Services Contract to allow more subsidy money to be moved to the northern routes, which is one of the reasons why the increases were not as high as feared. Coons says this doesn’t jive with the Liberals previous position that BC Ferries was free from political interference

“They’re acknowledging that in order to keep fares down they had to shuffle money around. Despite the fact that they’ve said they washed their hands of BC Ferries,” says Coons.

The new increases are not written in stone. The commissioner is giving BC Ferries one month to respond to his recommendations, and is allowing three months for public input. Mayor Kulesha says she wants to see those who are opposed to the increases to write to the commission personally.