Time to rethink Ferries’ future

Many people who regularly travel to the mainland would choose a bare bones voyage if it meant paying less.

The review of the Coastal Ferry Act released this week reminds us that Vancouver Island has had an ever-evolving relationship with our transportation service to the mainland.

B.C. Ferry Commissioner Gord Macatee made a series of recommendations for the province to ponder. And while many of the suggestions make sense for the short term, it’s also clear that it is time for a new vision for the future.

In case you missed it, Macatee’s report said B.C. Ferries can’t continue down the path its on. With a massive debt looming on the near horizon, the company can’t afford to simply raise rates and potentially discourage more people from using the systems.

Ridership is already down as fares have jumped dramatically in the last decade and Macatee says increases will keep happening for many years to come. With capital costs bearing down and relatively little room to cut, the only options are to increase the cost to users or get the government to fork over an even higher subsidy than it does now.

But that’s assuming B.C. Ferries keeps its current model. Perhaps a better solution is to rethink what we want from our ferry service. Vancouver Islanders make up a quarter of the province’s population and we are the main users of the ferry service.

Before the government established B.C. Ferries in 1960, passengers and freight were transported by various private concerns. In many ways it was the age of automobile that made the mini-ocean-liners and freighters previously employed obsolete.

Transporting people and their vehicles will still be the primary role for a ferry service in the foreseeable future. But there are options.

Many people who regularly travel to the mainland would choose a bare bones voyage if it meant paying less. Others have no problem coughing up more for fine food and nature interpreters. There are also other options for travel, such as the airlines that would love a bigger slice of the travellers pie.

Macatee’s review has started the ball rolling. It’s time to take that momentum and rethink B.C. Ferries’ future.