Local MLA Gary Coons says that he’s not buying the explanation BC Ferry’s CEO, David Hahn is giving for why the ferry service’s passenger levels were so low this summer. Hahn is blaming high gas prices for taking away people’s spending money, and for a strong American dollar keeping tourists in the US from coming to Canada. Coons, who is also the ferry critic, says that while both of those may be contributing to the dip in passenger, Hahn is refusing to acknowledge that his fare increases are also keeping people from using the ferries.
“David Hahn blames high fuel prices, a high dollar, he even blames the weather. One thing he dismisses are the real facts. There are many factors, but the key factor is here, I believe, are the outrageous fares that skyrocketed on this BC Liberal regime of the Coastal Ferry Act, especially on island and remote communities,” says Coons.
Passenger levels on BC Ferry’s routes have hit 20-year lows this summer when passenger traffic fell an average of 3.7 and vehicle traffic hit an 11-year low because it fell 4.2 per cent on all routes in BC when compared to last summer.
Traffic on the north coast has fallen much farther than that. In July of this year the number of passangers coming to Prince Rupert on the ferry from Port Hardy dropped by over 11 per cent since July 2010. The number of vehicles coming to Prince Rupert from the Haida Gwaii fell by over 9 per cent, and vehicles going to to the islands fell by over 14 per cent.
When asked about the falling traffic by the Vancouver Sun, Hahn admitted that the lack of passenger was going to cost BC Ferry’s a lot of money.
“What it means is we will lose more than $20 million this year,” Hahn told the newspaper.
Coons says that not only are Hahn and the rest of the board of BC Ferries driving away customers by raising fares too high, they are spending way too much on themselves. Hahn has recently come under fire after it came to light that the board had awarded him a $315,000 a year pension package.The Coons says that executives at BC Ferries are simply out of touch.
“In 2003 there were three vice-presidents of BC Ferries, now we have 11 vice-presidents. and I do believe if David Hahn had gotten out of the boardroom along with his colleagues who are making a killing on the backs of BC Ferry users, if they actually got out and talked to people, they would realize that the key to this whole problem is the skyrocketing fares,” says Coons.
Coons admits that simply lowering fares too attract passengers is not going to fix BC Ferry’s money woes, but says that the Liberals need recognize ferry service in the north as part of the highways system that island residents depend on and begin funding to it accordingly.