BC Ferries to cut service, consider gambling on vessels for new revenues

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The provincial government is charting a new course for our coastal ferries’ future.

The financially troubled ferry company will be cutting sailings on lower-use minor routes and on the higher cost northern routes to save $14-million by April 2014. Changes to major routes by April 2016 will also save the company another $4.9-million.

As of April 1, 2014, the current 100 per cent passenger fare discount received by B.C. seniors travelling Monday to Thursday will be reduced to 50 per cent on major and minor routes. There will be no change to the current 33 per cent discount offered to seniors on the northern routes. The provincial savings of approximately $6 million per year will be redirected to support general fares.

These changes are coming while the provincial government will also provide an additional $86.6-million to 2016 to help reduce the pressure of raising fares. That brings B.C. taxpayer funding to more than $180 million this year and to nearly $1.4 billion over the last 10 years to support coastal ferry services.

The government of B.C. is also considering the introduction of a pilot project to assess the viability of gaming, and is seeking feedback on introducing gaming as a permanent revenue-generating program on major routes between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. The pilot project would be implemented on BC Ferries’ busiest route between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen.

If successful, gaming revenue would help reduce the pressure on raising fares with net revenues reinvested into the ferry system to support general fares.

Transportation minister Todd Stone made the announcement this morning. “The B.C. coastal ferry service has been wrestling with cost pressures for more than 20 years. We are making tough decisions today to ensure that our coastal ferry service is sustainable for future generations. These changes protect basic service levels and are in keeping with the fiscal realities facing provincial taxpayers,” said Stone.

Starting this week, a new round of community engagement gets underway, so that ferry users and other British Columbians can comment on these planned changes. Details of this engagement are available at www.coastalferriesengagement.ca

Looking forward, the government of B.C. and BC Ferries will continue to explore strategies to create an affordable and sustainable ferry system beyond 2016. This will include looking at standardized and no-frills vessels, LNG propulsion, other alternative technologies, passenger only vessels, fixed links, a new reservation and point-of-sale system, increased operational efficiencies and seeking federal infrastructure funding to renew the fleet and terminals.

“I’m supportive of service adjustments which will improve capacity utilization in the ferry system, in keeping with the recommendations in my report of 2012. All of the principle stakeholders – government, BC Ferries and ferry users – need to be part of the solution in order to achieve an affordable and financially sustainable ferry system,” said Gordon Macatee, BC Ferry Commissioner.

Image: BC Ferries

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