At a news conference today, Minister Todd Stone confirmed that reductions in coastal ferry services would go ahead on April 28, following meetings between BC Ferries and designated community groups to refine the proposed schedules. His full statement said:
VICTORIA – The government of B.C. has reviewed the 2013 B.C. Coastal Ferries Engagement Summary Report, which was made public today.
The Province confirms $18.9 million in service reductions will be implemented beginning this spring to better align service levels to demand. Government also is proceeding with a reduction in the seniors’ discount, and will pursue a gaming pilot project.
These changes are in keeping with government’s vision of a coastal ferry system that is affordable, efficient and sustainable, while protecting basic services.
Taxpayers have provided an additional $86.6 million to BC Ferries to 2016 to help reduce the pressure on fares. That brings provincial and federal funding to over $200 million this year and to $1.7 billion over the last 10 years to support coastal ferry services. As well, BC Ferries is on track to find $54 million in efficiency improvements to 2016.
That leaves $18.9 million in net savings necessary over the next two years to meet the requirements under the current price cap. BC Ferries is reducing service on the minor and northern routes, which will account for $14 million in net savings. These service adjustments will be implemented beginning April 28.
BC Ferries will meet with designated community representatives to refine the schedules on the affected minor and northern routes, taking into account the community input received during engagement. For example, on some routes, there are opportunities to eliminate mid-day sailings in favour of retaining early morning or late evening sailings. The final schedules will be made public by the end of March.
BC Ferries will also implement further changes to the major routes (Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, Tsawwassen to Duke Point and Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay) prior to April 2016 to achieve
$4.9 million in savings. BC Ferries will be undertaking the analysis to develop these potential service reductions. Minor and northern routes will not be affected by these changes.
With respect to Route 40, government and BC Ferries are responding to issues raised by Bella Coola residents during the engagement by expanding the summer connector service. This service between Bella Coola and Bella Bella will increase from one sailing per week to three to four sailings per week in the summer, using the MV Nimpkish. This will also help mitigate the tourism impacts while the industry develops new options for circle tours.
Effective April 1, seniors (65 and older) travelling Monday to Thursday on major and minor routes will pay a half-price passenger fare. Currently, B.C. taxpayers cover the full cost of their passenger fare. Government will continue to provide the same level of funding to BC Ferries. The additional revenue from seniors’ passenger fares will help reduce pressure for future fare increases, benefitting all ferry users. Seniors currently pay full price for their vehicle, and will continue to do so.
Government is pursuing a gaming pilot project on one of BC Ferries’ major routes and revenues would be directed to reduce pressure on future fare increases.
More than 3,700 people participated in public meetings during the engagement process that ended last December, with 2,300 feedback forms and over 1,300 written submissions received by government.
Long term, the Government of B.C. and BC Ferries will continue to explore strategies to support an affordable and sustainable ferry system beyond 2016. This will include looking at standardized and no-frills vessels, LNG propulsion, other alternative technologies, a new reservation and point-of-sale system, increased operational efficiencies and seeking federal infrastructure funding to renew the fleet and terminals.