Last week I wrote about the B.C. Coastal Ferries Consultation and Engagement process. Last Friday a group of about 30 local stakeholders attended the “small group meeting” in Prince Rupert, and from this very diverse group of local voices came a very unified message – a message that, quite frankly, questioned the nature of this consultation process.
However, it takes more than 30 voices to sway a government, and for this reason I beg you to go online, http://www.coastalferriesengagement.ca, and fill in their survey. But be cautious. The questions are very specific, and can be misleading.
On the first question, the Ministry asks how to prioritize $26 million in savings. I believe that the answer lies in increasing revenue, not in decreasing expense. Above all else, ferry rates are prohibitive for use of BC Ferries as an essential service by residents or as an economic driver for tourism. Lower fares will increase ridership. Yes, there is also potential for on-board revenue streams. Perhaps, within this, there is a chance to reduce per-sailing cost, through simple yield management, but revenue remains the key. Personally, I didn’t check any of the prioritization boxes, and made the above points in the comment box.
The next question asks us to rate our level of agreement with BC Ferries reducing sailings to achieve $26 million in savings to 2016. Again, I find the question disingenuous. I checked “neither agree nor disagree,” because the ferry system offers so many diverse scenarios, particularly in the north, that this decision must be made on the basis of individual routes. There cannot be a universal decision for the entire ferry system. And I said so in the comment box.
There follows a series of questions on alternate solutions to the ferry system. None of the suggestions – alternate technologies, shared passenger and vehicle ferries, barging and so on, are practical on our key route, Route 10, between Prince Rupert and Port Hardy.
You won’t need my help in answering the next questions, about your level of agreement in increasing property taxes or fuel taxes for coastal communities to help fund ferry service. Our taxes are already being used to share in the burden of paying for all of the public highways throughout the province; coastal ferries are just part of that system.
Next we’re asked for innovative ideas regarding changes to the B.C. coastal ferry system to make it more sustainable. I question the nature of the question: BC Ferries is an essential service for residents, and a vital component in northern industry, and should be considered an important part of the provincial highway system. I do not support the idea of the northern ferry service being economically sustainable in and of itself, and it should be further subsidized if necessary. I believe that as a driver for northern economic development it more than recoups government expense in tax revenues from the businesses and communities it helps sustain.
And frankly, I felt I needed to end the survey by again questioning the process: This consultation seems to predetermine a particular outcome, and I don’t agree with the apparent suppositions.
First among these is the supposition that shortfalls cannot be recouped through increased ridership. Ferry rates have long since surpassed what both local and visitor markets are willing to pay, leading to an inevitable decline in ridership.
Properly marketed, and with a competitive fare structure, there is no reason the service cannot be sustainable and healthy within the current model.
Please take the time to complete the survey. It would be disastrous to have the province make any changes to BC Ferries based on the suppositions that launched this consultation.