When it comes to Gulf Islands ferry fares, no news is good news this spring.
Usually, an unsavoury joke arrives every April 1 in the form of a hike in the cost of travelling with BC Ferries.
Between 2010 and 2015, those annual April 1 increases ranged from four to 8.23 per cent, way beyond the rate of inflation. Fuel surcharges were sometimes added to the mix.
According to a recently released report from the Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs, a coalition of 13 regional ferry advisory committees including those serving Salt Spring and the southern Gulf Islands, the cumulative result was that ferry fares rose more than 130 per cent on some Gulf Islands routes between 2003, when the Coastal Ferry Act was first implemented, and 2016. It felt like cruel and unusual punishment.
Southern Gulf Islands Ferry Advisory Committee chair Brian Hollingshead reports that ferry traffic to the Southern Gulf Islands decreased more than 15 per cent in that same time period, negatively impacting the islands’ economies. It could be argued that skyrocketing ferry fares were a factor in population declines recorded by the 2016 and 2011 census on Galiano and Mayne islands. Island living is not an inexpensive proposition, largely due to ferry costs.
With the absence of an April 1 increase for all BC Ferries routes except the three major ones connecting the Lower Mainland with Vancouver Island, and no Gulf Islands hike last year due to a change in the “fuel rebate” figures, perhaps the era of no-end-in-sight ferry fare increases has finally hit high ground.
Years of arguments put forth by ferry advisory committees up and down the coast about the negative impact of ever-rising fares may have finally been heard by BC Ferries management. An improving economy and higher revenue is no doubt a factor. BC Ferries’ net earnings for the last nine months of 2016 were $118.2 million, more than $18 million received in the same period the previous year.
It could be that the Liberal government didn’t want to rile Gulf Islands voters about ferry issues before the upcoming election. Whatever the reason, we’re glad to have a reprieve from constant fare increases and hope BC Ferries and successive provincial governments can maintain calm seas on the fare front in years to come.