The Ferry Commission Hearings into the Coastal Ferries Act came through the Sunshine Coast last week stopping in Gibsons, Powell River, and Van Anda on Texada Island. Hundreds of residents attended, explaining their concerns and offering suggestions on how to make the system better.
The Commissioner, Gord Macatee, started each meeting defining his role: how the Act could be amended to “allow the Commissioner to balance the interests of ferry users with the financial sustainability needs of BC Ferries.” This drew a few sarcastic giggles, as it pointed out the embarrassing fact that “public interest” was omitted from the original legislation.
The Commissioner heard that the Act, which privatized the operations of BC Ferries, has led to a) exorbitant fare increases, b) reductions in service, and most importantly, c) its lack of accountability to the public. This was highlighted poignantly in stories of seniors travelling for medical reasons.
Overwhelmingly, the Commissioner heard how the Coastal Ferries Act had hurt Sunshine Coast businesses, stifled the economy, and put additional cost burden on families.
The Commissioner also heard many good ideas from the 100 or so residents who had a chance to speak. He also saw the 2,570 letters that had been dropped off at my office calling for the return of a system that serves the public.
In addition to hearing from the community members and stakeholders, the Commissioner will be consulting with experts on “price-capping” and experts on other ferry systems worldwide.
But more important than what other jurisdictions do, I hope the Commissioner reminds the government and the BC Ferries CEO that British Columbians have historically been willing to share the cost of our Province’s transportation infrastructure. Just as small communities are not expected to pay the construction costs of their new roads, bridges or interchanges, our coastal communities should not be expected to absorb the entire cost of ship replacements, dock repairs or other capital costs. Our fares offset the cost of ferry operations, something we all understand and accept, but ferry fares should be fair, as they are our only highways in or out.