B.C. to restrict ferry rate increases

A BC Ferries vessel leaves Tsawwassen terminal on its way to Vancouver Island.

VICTORIA – BC Ferries fare increases will be limited to 4.15 per cent on all routes for 2012-13, according to legislation introduced Tuesday by the B.C. government.

A preliminary ruling by the B.C. Ferry Commissioner this spring indicated fares could rise by more than eight per cent on smaller and northern ferry routes next spring. The legislation caps increases on all routes to the limit that was set for major routes serving Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom said the rate cap gives the new B.C. Ferry Commissioner time to complete a review of the Coastal Ferry Act before he makes a final decision on rate caps for the next four years.

Gord Macatee, the long-time civil servant who took over as B.C. Ferry Commissioner this year, expects to complete his review and make recommendations to the government by early 2012.

NDP ferries critic Garry Coons called the rate cap for next year “insignificant” after years of increases that have fallen more heavily on the smaller routes. The B.C. Liberal government’s mandate for ferries has resulted in the doubling of some fares in the last eight years, he said, and now Premier Christy Clark is considering a possible fall election.

“It seems to be an easy out for the minister and this government to roll this off until after the election,” Coons said. “And then knowing what they’ve been doing and how they’ve been operating with BC Ferries, they’ll jack up the fares after that.”

The Coastal Ferry Act currently requires BC Ferries to reduce the subsidy paid to keep smaller ferry routes running, and prevents BC Ferries from using revenue from its large, busy routes to support service to smaller islands and communities.

Lekstrom has said the ferry rate review will focus on affordability for ferry users and the impact of rates on tourism and other business in ferry-dependent communities.

The review will not affect the next increase, which takes effect June 1. A fuel surcharge of 2.5 per cent is being added on the three major routes serving Vancouver Island, and the rest of the routes will see a five per cent fuel surcharge.