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NDP offers two-year ferry fare freeze

Promises to cancel next spring's scheduled four-per-cent hikes
NDP says if elected

An NDP government would cancel a four-per-cent increase in BC Ferries fares scheduled for next spring, freezing fares for two years as they conduct an “audit” to determine the future of coastal ferry service.

NDP transportation critic Maurine Karagianis said Wednesday the government would provide an additional $20 million in each of the next two years to make up for the fare revenue lost by cancelling the increase, which was ordered last year by B.C. Ferry Commissioner Gord Macatee.

The two-year freeze proposal is a repeat of the NDP’s 2009 election platform, which also promised a full review of the ferry rate structure.

In an interview from the NDP campaign tour, Karagianis wouldn’t rule out further reductions in low-ridership sailings. She said the ferry commissioner would continue to operate, but “certainly the ferry corporation doesn’t always take every recommendation the ferry commissioner makes.”

In fact, the B.C. Ferry Commissioner has authority under the Coastal Ferry Act to set rate caps for all 25 salt-water routes, and as of last year the office was also given the power to determine service levels on those routes.

Macatee, appointed last year to the independent ferry commissioner role, has just completed a review of ferry operations designed to find $26 million in savings. The B.C. Liberal government launched the review in May 2012, after adding an additional $79.5 million to the coastal ferry service’s annual subsidy over four years, bringing it to about $180 million a year.

Transportation Minister Mary Polak released the government’s ferry consultation report in March, after meetings in coastal communities to set out options for cutting costs. Polak said no specific service reductions would be made until this summer at the earliest, but denied that she was putting off bad news until after the May 14 election.

After Macatee reported on the per-car subsidy for money-losing ferry routes, BC Ferries cut some sailings on the Tsawwassen-Duke Point run, which were losing $50 per vehicle on average.

Polak has emphasized that little-used ferry sailings cannot continue indefinitely, as overall ferry ridership has declined in recent years and BC Ferries has lost money even with increased subsidies.