B.C. charts course for a sustainable coastal ferry service

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THE government of B.C. is charting a new course for the coastal ferries’ future. The guiding principles behind all future decisions to affect the coastal ferry service will be based on an affordable, efficient and sustainable system which protects basic service to coastal communities for future generations.

These guiding principles are a framework for BC Ferries and the BC Ferry Commissioner as they consider and implement changes to increase operational efficiencies and develop and implement long-term capital plans.

Through the government of B.C., taxpayers have provided an additional $86.6 million to 2016 to help reduce the pressure on fares. That brings B.C. taxpayer funding to more than $180 million this year and to nearly $1.4 billion over the last 10 years to support coastal ferry services.

In addition, BC Ferries has committed to find $54 million in efficiency improvements to 2016, $15 million more than the target set by the BC Ferry Commissioner, and is on track to meet this challenge.

In the medium term, the government of B.C. is protecting taxpayers’ significant investment and addressing the pressure for higher fares by implementing a combination of service adjustments, a reduction in the senior’s discount, and a potential new revenue source.

$18.9 million in net savings are necessary over the next two years to meet the requirements under the current price cap. To accomplish that, BC Ferries will undertake service reductions to be implemented in two phases.

The first phase is service reductions to lower-use round trip sailings on the minor routes, and on the higher-cost northern routes, accounting for $14 million in net savings. These service adjustments will be implemented in April 2014.

BC Ferries will also implement further changes to the major routes prior to April 2016 to achieve $4.9 million in savings. Minor and northern routes will not be affected by these changes.

In addition, as a major capital investment is considered for Horseshoe Bay, analysis will continue on opportunities to achieve additional savings and efficiencies beyond the initial $4.9 million in reductions announced on Monday, on the major routes between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, particularly Route 2 (Departure Bay – Horseshoe Bay ) and Route 30 (Duke Point – Tsawwassen). Analysis will continue of opportunities to achieve additional savings and efficiencies on Southern Gulf Island routes.

As of April 1, 2014, the current 100 per cent passenger fare discount received by B.C. seniors (65 and older) travelling Monday to Thursday will be reduced to 50 per cent on major and minor routes. There will be no change to the current 33 per cent discount offered to seniors on the northern routes. The provincial savings of approximately $6 million per year will be redirected to support general fares.

The government of B.C. is also considering the introduction of a pilot project to assess the viability of gaming, and is seeking feedback on introducing gaming as a permanent revenue-generating program on major routes between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. The pilot project would be implemented on BC Ferries’ busiest route between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen. If successful, gaming revenue would help reduce the pressure on fares with net revenues reinvested into the ferry system to support general fares.

Starting this week, a new round of community engagement gets underway, so that ferry users and other British Columbians can comment on these planned changes. Details of this engagement are available at www.coastalferriesengagement.ca

Looking forward, the government of B.C. and BC Ferries will continue to explore strategies to create an affordable and sustainable ferry system beyond 2016. This will include looking at standardized and no-frills vessels, LNG propulsion, other alternative technologies, passenger only vessels, fixed links, a new reservation and point-of-sale system, increased operational efficiencies and seeking federal infrastructure funding to renew the fleet and terminals.