Whether a provincial or federal government bailout of some kind comes to the financially troubled B.C. Ferry Corporation, the travelling public should not expect to pay increased fares to make up for its losses.
B.C. Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena indicated as much Tuesday, in a discussion around the absence of federal emergency funding for BC Ferries and the devastating losses the corporation has sustained as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the NDP government changed the Coastal Ferry Act last year, she said, “we built public interest into the Act. And it is not in the public interest, at this time, to be looking at increasing fares … it will not help the people of B.C. and it will not help the economy of B.C.”
In the 2019 Speech from the Throne, a freeze on B.C. Ferries fare increases for major routes and discounts on minor and northern routes were extended to March 2020.
BC Ferries estimates its revenue losses since the pandemic largely shut down non-essential travel to be approximately $130 million and projects a $150-million net loss for 2020.
Due to its unsteady financial situation, the corporation is pausing major capital investments such as new vessels – excepting those already under construction – and upgrades to terminals. It is also taking on debt to help cover its projected losses.
Public transit systems were targeted for “a dedicated stream of funding” as part of the federal government’s $19-billion Safe Restart Agreement announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on July 16. The agreement requires the provinces to outline how they will invest the federal funds, but BC Ferries has so far not qualified for either that funding or any provincial relief money.
Trevena said the corporation “has not asked for a bailout,” but did not explain why it was not included for help along with such organizations as BC Transit and Translink, which have also seen major ridership declines during the pandemic. Those two operations are slated to receive $560 million under the federal program, plus matching funding from the province.
Asked whether it appears any financial assistance for BC Ferries will come solely from the B.C. government, Trevena would only say the province is in regular talks with BC Ferries to “understand the extent of the problem.” A BC Ferries spokesperson added the corporation has been in talks with both levels of government for months to see if any other aid programs might be applicable.
Premier John Horgan has previously discussed the importance of the ferry system to B.C.’s economy with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, and Trevena said the province continues to work with the federal government on how it may access federal dollars for BC Ferries.