BC Ferries drowning in debt

The current system in place for our ferries is flawed, but will a rushed public consultation fix it? If not, what will? Photo credit: BC Ferries

It’s no surprise to anyone that BC Ferries isn’t doing so well financially right now, or at all in recent years. Ridership is down, rates are increasing, and BC Ferries is cutting 98 round trips starting this winter in order to make ends meet.

Ends didn’t meet last year. In 2011, BC Ferries was in the red. Almost $20 million in the red.

This year, ridership is down almost 5% for both cars and passengers, and BC Ferries is scrambling for what to do next.

Hence, public consultation meetings are starting next week in various communities. These meetings will take place in 30 communities all before the new year. (The chair of the meetings was appointed by the Ministry of Transportation, not BC Ferries.) The citizen committees that offer advise to BC Ferries doubt the public meetings will work.

The meetings won’t fix fare hikes or dropping ridership, Harold Swierenga, chairman of the Saltspring Ferry Advisory Committee, told the Victoria Times Colonist.

While for the most part the cuts affect smaller routes that are losing major funds (The Port Hardy to Prince Rupert run loses about $2,365 per vehicle), the cuts will also affect Horseshoe Bay runs as well.

The province hasn’t increased funding for BC Ferries in almost eight years. However, it is the province that is fronting most of the government subsidy to the private corporation. Last fiscal year, B.C. fronted $151 million, and the federal government handed over $27 million. Even with all that help, there is said to be a shortfall of over $500 million over the next 10 years.

Will BC Ferries even be around in 10 years? The ferries are relied on by island citizens as a way to get around, sometimes even used for commuting to work on the mainland by those living on the Gulf Islands. Therefore, they probably will be. Building a bridge across, like Confederation Bridge linking P.E.I to New Brunswick would cost $8-to-12 billion according to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Vancouver’s consultation is November 26th. For more information, see here.

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