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BC aims to slow skyrocketing ferry fares

The British Columbia government today introduced changes and provided money aimed at slowing the increase in fares on BC Ferries.

Fares are still likely to rise faster than inflation and BC Ferries will have to look for savings by doing things like cancelling under used sailings, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Blair Lekstrom said.

The changes to the Coastal Ferry Act respond to recommendations made in a report by B.C. Ferry Commissioner Gord Macatee released in January, Lekstrom said.

The government also announced it will contribute an extra $79.5 million to BC Ferries over four or five years on top of the current annual $150 million subsidy.

Ferry operators will again be able to use fares from the major routes between Vancouver Island and the mainland to subsidize smaller routes, a practice the government had ended with changes made in 2003. The act also gives the commissioner greater latitude to approve or order service reductions and undertake performance reviews.

It adds "ferry users" along with taxpayers and "the financial sustainability of ferry operators" as the commissioner's primary concerns. Users include passengers, their families, communities serviced by ferries and businesses that rely on or use ferry services.

Lekstrom said the province will start a public consultation very soon to determine a vision for the future of ferry services in the province.

In 2003 the government changed BC Ferries from a Crown corporation to a publicly-owned private company with the instructions to move to a user pay system with financial sustainability of the operator as the top priority.

Between 2003 and 2011 fares on the major routes between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland increased by 47 per cent, while on the minor and northern routes the increase was 80 per cent.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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