Re: 'Amateur hour' for B.C. premier, In My Opinion, Burnaby NOW, Oct. 10.
Keith Baldrey paints a dark picture of the future of coastal ferries. No question, it's serious, but consider the context.
B.C. Ferries operates one of the largest ferry systems in the world. It's a $700 million a year business. That's part of the price of having a coastline, one with a population and magnificent scenery. Sort of like having mountains, doubling the cost of the highway network. A blessing and a curse. But it's our blessing and our curse.
Any ferry system, just like any public transit system, requires government contribution to supplement what comes from the fare box. B.C. Ferries customers pay for 85 per cent of the operating costs, substantially more than the 30 to 35 per cent transit customers pay, and well over what customers of comparable ferry systems pay. The B.C. government is getting a super deal, considering what it's receiving.
As to the $200 million cited, B.C. taxpayers contributed $127 million as a service fee to B.C. Ferries and another $3.3 million related to fuel cost adjustments. Beyond that, the government contributed $28.4 million through B.C. Ferries to seniors, students and medical needs. That money did nothing for B.C. Ferries as they were required to provide free or discounted ferry service to the recipients.
If the government chooses to provide free rides for seniors and students, it's their decision, and probably a good one. However, that money can't be lumped into supporting B.C. Ferries.
Finally, the federal government contributed $27.5 million.
While most ferry riders may not have a clue how to fix the problem as Mr. Baldrey suggests, they can certainly tell you what the problem is from their perspective. The fares are too darned high.
Their solution is to travel a lot less or not at all any more. The coastal communities, and the residents and businesses that populate them, are paying an ever higher price.
Indeed, hopefully there'll be a real debate on what to do with the ferry system as part of our provincial infrastructure. It's long overdue.
Brian Hollingshead, Burnaby