VICTORIA – Sailing cuts are coming in April to most of BC Ferries' minor and northern routes, as the corporation looks to save $18.9 million in the next two years.
Transportation Minister Todd Stone and BC Ferries CEO Mike Corrigan announced the reductions Monday, along with a plan to begin charging seniors half passenger fares that are currently offered free from Monday to Thursday.
BC Ferries is also planning a pilot project with slot machines on the main routes from Vancouver Island to the mainland, to test the revenue potential. Fare increases of four per cent and 3.9 per cent are to go ahead in the next two years, but Stone said the goal is to hold future increases to the rate of inflation or less after that.
"We heard loud and clear from people in the coastal communities … that fares cannot continue to escalate as they have, and people want the ferry service to be there," Stone said.
Ferry reductions outlined by the ministry review will go ahead in next spring, after another round of consultations with coastal communities to look for schedule adjustments to make the remaining runs serve residents as effectively as possible.
The route reductions, feedback forms and a schedule of community meetings are posted at the review website. There are no further reductions proposed for the main Vancouver Island runs, but Stone said the ministry's target is to find another $5 million in savings on those routes following reductions last year to the Tsawwassen-Duke Point route.
The cancelled runs are mostly early morning or late evening, many with passenger loads of 20 per cent or less. The largest reduction is a one-third cut to Port Hardy-Prince Rupert run, BC Ferries' longest and most heavily subsidized service that lost $31 million on operations last year.
Other runs being cut include Horseshoe Bay to Bowen Island, Comox to Powell River, Gabriola Island to Nanaimo and Quadra Island to Campbell River.
NDP ferry critic Claire Trevena said the service reductions will have an "outrageous impact" on communities such as Quadra Island where she lives.
"We're already seeing people leaving communities because of the cost of the ferries," Trevena said. "We've seen young families go, we've seen businesses in trouble, and this is just going to compound that."
Long-term strategies include converting new ferries to natural gas fuel and exploring passenger-only private service to supplement BC Ferries sailings.