I think the following is apropos to all of us living on the Outer Gulf Islands, J.M., moderator, PenderBlog
From Paul Brent, Saturna Island Trustee, re: Ferry Rate Hikes
Mayne Presentation (by Paul Brent)
Good evening. I’m speaking in support of the short-link proposal between Mayne and Saturna.
I support the concept because it deals with those early morning and late night deadhead runs, where BC Ferries move near empty vessels, wasting crews and fuel to reposition their vessels from and to Swartz Bay. The Short Link home-ports the vessel on island, ending that wasteful practice.
I support the concept because it doesn’t cut service – it restructures it to be more cost effective, while improving accessibility, our economies and our communities.
I support the concept because it is scalable. By combining a smaller (26 car) ferry, and a short 1.6 nautical mile journey, you can add service to deal with peak demand, by simply adding another ½ hour run.
But I have more to say than support for the short link. I’ll try to do it quickly.
I’m an Island Trustee from Saturna. I’m also a transportation consultant. I’ve worked for a Provincial Transportation Crown, as a VP with BC Rail, until its privatization in 2004. So I know a little about transportation. And a little about our area.
The Islands Trust Act governs our area. It is a Provincial Act. The core of the act is its object, which reads thus -
The object of the Trust is to preserve and protect the Trust Area and its unique amenities and environment for the benefit of the residents of the Trust Area and of British Columbia generally….
Preserve, protect. Unique amenities. For the benefit of residents and British Columbia. Impressive words.
But we are at a crisis in preserving and protecting those residents, and their unique amenities. We are being told it’s a crisis, as we can’t afford the transportation costs to serve those islands.
I’m here to tell you this crisis is a manufactured one. This same government mandating we be protected, has manufactured the crisis threatening our communities, its resident, and its unique amenities. It is a made in BC crisis, through a policy of discrimination regarding basic transportation to coastal communities. It is called the Coastal Ferry Act.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. This is the setup. We’re talking about finding $26 million over three years. But the consultation materials point to $564 million funding gap in the following 8 years.
And the province has known this for decades. The Wright Report in 2001, identified an aging fleet, aggravated by the $500 million fast ferries failure, as the fiscal cliff facing government. That report showed that BC Ferries fleet had not been replaced, with the average vessel age going from 12 years in 1982 to 28 years in 2001.
So the provincial government’s solution; the 2003 Coastal Ferry Act, frozen provincial funding, and placing the burden of dealing with under-funding vessel replacements, including the failure of the Fast Cats, on ferry users.
Did our government really establish a discriminatory policy, which treats our basic transportation links in a manner totally dissimilar to every other region in BC? Where we pay not only operating costs, but contribute to capital replacement costs. Especially those costs from decades of government underfunding.
Did it work? Well, Ferries bought half a dozen new vessels – having bought just one in the decade prior to 2003.
Well, financing and amortization costs went through the roof – up over fourfold – $150 million per year more this year than in 2003. Fares up 80% – and revenues from fare increases over $650 million. But still not enough.
Today the average fleet age is 31 years. So that fiscal cliff is even bigger. And on the minor routes – the average age is 37 years
So the Coastal Ferry Act, despite its punitive nature, didn’t solve years of government underfunding. Isn’t this really our fault, as these consultation materials infer. Lets look.
We all know that the province subsidizes roads – and in most cases at 100%. They fund capital, and they fund operating costs.
$800 million for the highway to Whistler.
$250 million replacing the Pitt River Bridge
South Fraser Perimeter road estimated at $1.2 billion
Kicking Horse Pass upgrades $ over a billion in tandem with the feds
$100 million for the new Kelowna Bridge
$100 million for Lion’s Gate refit
And all 14 of our inland ferries are free. Yes, fully 100% subsidized by taxpayers.
Even the $3.3 billion for Port Mann Bridge Highway 1 has $150 million in provincial subsidy that won’t be repaid with tolls – and the ultimate risk for the project – lies with the government. Taxpayers. You and me.
But that’s not all. The province subsidizes more. They subsidize transit.
In 2008, as part of its provincial Transit Plan, the province committed to 4.75 BILLION in new transit subsidies to 2020.
And we can all agree, basic transit is a good thing, right. But there is no BC Transit on Mayne, or Saturna, or Galiano, or North Pender, or South Pender. So no, we don’t see any of that subsidy either. Passenger ferries and no transit. Really?
At BC Transit, the province has increased its subsidy by over 93% since 2004. And for BC Ferries, they’ve kept their subsidy fixed for the same period.
Those same BC Transit users & advertising pays 33% of the cost of their ride, taxpayers subsidize the rest. And those folks choose to live where they do, be it Whistler or Williams Lake, just as we do.
But instead, we ferry users pay 75% of all ferry costs, more than three times their rate. And most importantly, we users cover all of ferry’s operating costs.
At Translink, the Lower Mainland’s transit service provider, which the province subsidizes, users pay less than 40% of total Translink cost.
Have their fares grown like BC Ferries. No. Why? Because their fare increases are limited. Yup, limited by PROVINCIAL legislation – the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Act Section 197(1) of the Act sets Translink’s annual fare increase at a targeted rate less than 2%. If that sounds totally opposite to our Coastal Ferry Act PROVINCIAL legislation, well, that is because it is.
You’ll hear that Translink is funded by regional fuel tax, property tax and parking tax. Well, 60% of those fuel taxes come from the province, a couple of hundred million annually. Oh, and then there are the grants.
Evergreen Line – provincial government will contribute $583 million
Canada Line – The province of BC contributed $425 million
Millennium Line – The province of British Columbia contributed $435 million
And the millions of provincial contributions to the original Expo line
Even the fare gate installations at Translink’s rapid transit stations are getting a $40 million provincial subsidy.
So there is a whole bunch of money – billions in fact for basic transportation services, all funded by the province and all to support users who pay nothing close to what ferry users do.
So the province bailed on us. How about BC Ferries? BC Ferries costs have risen by 50% since the Coastal Ferry Act came into force.
In 2008/2009 ferries had 3,620 FTE’s, an increase of 675 full time employees over 1992. A 23% increase. To handle the same number of vehicles and passengers.
But to be fair, BC Ferries added 2 new routes, Duke Point/Tsawwassen and the Discovery Coast Tour. The Duke Point/Tsawwassen run loses $30 million per year. Last year it handled 600,000 vehicles, yet the other two major runs that bracket it had 1,500,000 vehicles in unused capacity. Brilliant! The commercial trucking association must have one hell of a lobby group in Victoria.
And Route 40, the Discovery Coast tour, handled 2,000 vehicles last year, sailing only in the summer – BC Ferries bills it as a “soft adventure tour”. It loses $4 million per year. With 80% fare increase since 2003, is it a surprise that it now handles 40% less traffic, and its loss has more than doubled? And you know what? It serves pretty much the same communities as Route 10.
Brilliant! Lets add two duplicate routes, add hundreds of new employees, and use up scarce vessels, so we can lose whopping more money to which we’ll blame on users.
Yes – providing basic transportation is expensive, and virtually all transportation and transit systems receive government funding. Most can’t even dream of users covering all of the operating costs, as we do at ferries. BC transportation users, including all of us served by coastal ferries, are as deserving as anyone, whether they choose to live in Whistler, Langley, Williams Lake or on Mayne Island.
Don’t let anyone in the provincial government tell you otherwise.