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Ferry fare hikes to be capped at 1.9 per cent

BC Ferries
BC Ferries' workhorse Spiirit-Class vessels are being converted to LNG fuel to reduce costs, and other cost controls are taking effect.
— image credit: Black Press files

The next BC Ferries fare increase of 3.9 per cent will go ahead as scheduled April 1, but increases will be capped at no more than 1.9 per cent for four years after that.

BC Ferry Commissioner Gord Macatee said Wednesday the recent sailing reductions and other cost cutting, lower fuel prices and positive ridership forecasts have allowed him to set the cap at about the rate of inflation for all routes from 2016 to 2020.

A lower dollar is expected to attract U.S. residents to B.C. while keeping more Canadian vacationers at home, with lower gasoline prices for travellers as well as ferry fuel costs, Macatee said. Conversion of ships to use liquefied natural gas will also reduce fuel costs.

Macatee cautioned that oil prices are volatile, and the forecasts are based on $65-a-barrel oil compared to about $50 today.

"Trying to predict fuel prices for the next five days is daunting," Macatee said. "Our challenge is to predict it for the next five years."

BC Ferries has cut administrative costs by $5 million since 2009, reduced executive pay by $1.2 million a year, reduced overtime and improved safety enough to lower WorkSafeBC premiums for employees.

BC Ferries CEO Mike Corrigan said he is pleased with the findings of a performance review by PriceWaterhouseCoopers that gave the corporation good marks for efficiency and the operation of BC Ferries Vacations. Food service revenue is approaching $50 million a year and a drop trailer service for truckers is also contributing to BC Ferries' bottom line.

An overhaul of the ferry reservations system is also expected to improve ridership when it is implemented.

NDP ferries critic Claire Trevena said the optimistic forecasts are based on a two per cent increase in ridership, but to the average traveller, they mean further increases to an already high fare. She also cautioned that the 1.9 per cent cap is an average for the BC Ferries fleet, and some routes could see larger increases.

For the longer term, Macatee said he has asked BC Ferries to evaluate savings to be had by consolidating the three ferry terminals at Nanaimo and three on Saltspring Island. He wants BC Ferries to reconsider a $200 million terminal replacement and six new vessels for Horseshoe Bay, considering if smaller vessels and more sailings would be more efficient.

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