Group Proposes B.C. Ferries Revamp

Transportation | BCBusiness

A Sunshine Coast business group believes a public-private partnership would improve ferry service to their communities and reduce fees

Business groups along the B.C. coast are pitching a new public-private partnership solution for the B.C. Ferry Service Inc., which they believe can solve some of the cash-strapped system’s problems.
The Powell River Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of a growing number of chambers of commerce groups along the coast, launched what it has called a Fiscal Fairness Campaign to try to force changes to B.C. Ferries.
The group’s plan calls for the return of B.C. Ferries to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, where ferries would become part of the highway system, allowing the ferry system to be partially financed by private organizations. The campaign organizers claim their solution will help reduce B.C. Ferries’ debt, while also helping to maintain affordable and reliable service that meets the needs of the coastal communities.
“We have a feeling there is a formula that can be done to make this happen,” says Jack Barr, president of the Powell River Chamber of Commerce.
The campaign was officially launched late last year and is gaining steam among business groups and citizens along the coast, says Barr. The campaign’s approach is meant to be constructive and non-confrontational, and aims to resolve what its sponsors describe as ongoing problems with B.C. Ferries’ structure, costs, and service reductions.
Proponents claim that the current BC Ferries’ structure is a burden on specific base of taxpayers, which is “unfair and must be changed,” according to the campaign materials. They say the current tax and toll system for B.C.’s marine highways is “discriminatory,” and ask for equitable tolls.
Ferry fares have risen 300 per cent since 1987, compared to 130 per cent for TransLink fares, according to a recent article in the Victoria Times Colonist.
Barr says coastal communities were built around the ferry system infrastructure, and were promised affordable and reliable transportation. Today, that service is becoming too expensive and routes are being cut to save money.
The provincial government says it has increased its financial contribution to B.C. Ferries to reduce pressure for higher fares, but also claims reduced service levels are the result of changes in travel patterns and demographics that have affected use of the system.
Barr says the people behind the Fiscal Fairness Campaign understand the budget challenges the government faces, but believes their public-private option provides a longer-term solution. He claims a few private organizations have expressed interest in helping to fund B.C. Ferries (which is what empowered the group to start the campaign).
To move forward, the campaign organizers are looking for the backing of more than 40 ferry-dependent communities. They then plan to ask the B.C. Chamber of Commerce for its support, as well as hotel and other travel industry associations across the province that rely on the ferry system.
“If we have the backing… then we feel [the province] would be hard pressed not to listen to us,” Barr says.
The Golden Ears Bridge in Metro Vancouver was financed as a public-private partnership, and the same financing arrangement is being pitched for replacement of the Massey Tunnel. The new Port Mann Bridge was originally intended to be a P3, but that deal fell through. To pay for construction and operating costs, the bridge is electronically tolled.