B.C. Ferry system should be treated like a provincial highway

It is time to accept that the Gordon Campbell government’s decision to privatize B.C. Ferries has proved to be a mistake.

The recent publication of the ferry commissioner’s review of the Coastal Ferry Act means it is finally time to accept that the Gordon Campbell government’s ideologically driven decision to privatize B.C. Ferries has proved to be a wrongheaded mistake.

The reason that his “user pay all” corporate initiative failed is to be found in his refusal to understand the basic principle of economics: the more prices go up, the more likely demand will go down.

The proof is that passenger vehicle traffic is now at a 20-year low. Perhaps it was hoped that this predictable outcome could be avoided because the service provided by B.C. Ferries is essentially a monopoly and thus with no realistic, available alternative, travellers could be forced to pay ever-increasing tariffs. However, price gouging fare hikes of between 47 and 80 per cent while incomes were stagnant or increasing at a glacial pace proved just too much for the ferry-riding public.

This is not the time for more tinkering with a “reverse reservation system” together with a form of three-card monte scheduling or a two-tier pricing system aimed at visitors to our province. Now that the man in charge of the failed experiment has sailed off into the sunset with a $300,000 annual pension after only nine years at the helm, it is time to get back to sensible basics: namely to acknowledge once and for all that former Premier W.A.C. Bennett was correct back in 1960 when he ruled that the ferry system is an extension of the highway system and thus entitled to the same kind of significant public subsidies already paid to build and maintain our blacktop roads.

Even our neighbours directly to the south in the land of free enterprise recognize that marine highways need both public support and oversight.

So please let’s stop the King Canute-like thinking that we can somehow sidestep or override the basic laws of supply and demand and get on with providing a publicly overseen basic, safe and reliable ferry service made affordable by an appropriate public subsidy.

John Fryer

Victoria