Ferries surcharge a ‘real blow’ for Islanders: advisory

Adding extra ferry surcharges is only piling fuel on the fire for irate Island residents, according to Keith Rush, chair of the Thetis and Penelakut Island ferry advisory committee.

"This is a real blow to our community and just really speaks to the fact that the current model that governments are continuing to push is broken and really does need fixing," Rush said.

When fuel prices get higher than what the ferry commissioner allows for fare increases, Ferries is allowed to add a surcharge.

The surcharge, Rush said, is three-and-a-half per cent on the minor routes, but that’s only on a cash fare. For regular riders, the increase will be more.

"For many of us, on these ferrydependent islands we have what is called an e-card [an experience card]. You get a bit of a break in terms of fare price. But the surcharge on that is more in terms of four-to five-and-a-half per cent," he explained. "So you add that to the four per cent that’s coming up on April 1 and that’s somewhere between an eight and a nine and a half per cent increase over this time last year for ferry-dependent communities.

It’s brutal." "Can you imagine if the cost of going across the Lion’s Gate bridge went up 10 per cent, or if the Lion’s Gate bridge was shut down at 9:30, like is going to happen on Gabriola, for instance? As of April 1, the last sailing is going to be 9:30 from Nanaimo to Gabriola. That’s ridiculous. Just imagine if you worked till 11:30 at the hospital; you’re not going to get home? And that’s a real commuter community," he said.

Island residents are continuing to push the provincial government and BC Ferries to listen to coastal concerns.

"We’ve just finished this 18-month-long community consultation process so the letterwriting has been fast and furious and all sorts of people have voiced their disapproval about the lack of consultation with communities."

No one is going to let this drop because the effect of schedule cuts and fare increases is hurtful, he said.

"Of course, our ferry here, the MV Kuper, goes to Penelakut Island as well and again the Penelakut Tribe continues to be hard hit by these ferry increases. And this one has sort of come out of the blue. I don’t track diesel futures but I really thought the price of gas had stabilized over the last few months but I guess I’m wrong."

The province doesn’t seem to be listening but that doesn’t mean Islanders of all kinds aren’t working in the background, according to Rush.

"They have had something called community consultation but they certainly didn’t hear what we have to say and no impact analysis on what’s going to happen to the economies on the islands or any of that sort of stuff. It’s really been ridiculous."

Meanwhile, Sunshine Coast residents, fed up with fare hikes and what they see as damaging cuts to BC Ferries service are fighting back with another letter-writing campaign, hoping other ferrydependent communities will join them.

The BC Ferry Coalition, through personal contact, an email campaign and a website, declared this week that it is taking aim squarely at B.C. Premier Christy Clark.

Jeff Keighley of the Sunshine Coast ferry advisory committee, is spearheading it.

"Tell the Premier: stop the cuts and listen to the people!" was Keighley’s trumpet cry as he asked everyone who feels strongly about the need for adequate ferry service to B.C.’s coastal communities to write a personalized letter to Clark stating how the proposed service cuts and escalating fares will impact you and your family and your community.

"Flood the Premier’s desk with mail!" he said, adding that specific points to make include the hardships for commuters, businesses, seniors and First Nations people living on modest incomes, and local businesses who are seeing transportation costs go up and up.

The Coalition is returning to a long-held belief: that the ferry system should be part of the province’s network of highways. "Tell the Premier that the 10-year experiment with BC Ferries as a quasi-independent corporation is a failure. BC Ferries should be brought back under more direct provincial control …and funded as part of the provincial highways budget," Keighley said.

BC Ferries itself said that due to "current world fuel market conditions" the company is bringing in a fuel surcharge on the majority of its routes on Jan. 17.

BC Ferries is currently paying approximately $0.14 per litre higher than the commissionerapproved fuel price included in its fares.

"Market pricing indicates that the price differential will continue throughout the year," said Mike Corrigan, BC Ferries’ president and CEO. "We are well aware that implementing a fuel surcharge is unpopular with our customers, and we are doing everything we can to keep our fuel costs as low as possible, including building new ships with LNG capability. We have waited as long as we can to implement a surcharge, however we must act now as it is clear that fuel prices are unlikely to decline in the foreseeable future."

Meanwhile, the provincial New Democrats are calling the surcharge "a significant blow to coastal communities and the provincial economy."

NDP ferries critic Claire Trevena said, "Since the Liberals have been mismanaging our ferry system, fares on some routes have risen by more than 100 per cent. Transportation Minister Todd Stone needs to stop proposing short-sighted cuts and fix this critical system.

"Families in B.C. are struggling to make ends meet, and yet the Liberal government is rolling out one fee increase after another while making reckless cuts to services British Columbians depend on," she said.