Expect increases in the price of food and everything else trucked to the Island after B.C. Ferries raises fares by an average of 4.1 per cent on April 1.
Trevor Sawkins, CEO of Cold Star Freight, said fares are a “huge part” of the company’s cost structure, given eight to 12 tractor-trailers come from the mainland to deliver refrigerated food to grocery stores across the Island on weeknights.
“Ultimately, it’s the consumer who’s paying,” he said. “And it hurts Island-based businesses trying to ship products off the Island.”
This year’s fare increases — and similar hikes for 2014 and 2015 for passengers, as well as private and commercial vehicles — were approved by the ferry commissioner in October. They are necessary to meet rising operating costs and capital expenditures, B.C. Ferries says.
Saanich bus-line operator Brendan McCullough compares year-after-year increases to “death by a thousand cuts.”
Fifteen years ago, McCullough ran about 300 day trips to the mainland via Victoria or Nanaimo every year. Now it’s down to 30, and trips are longer to get around paying fares twice a day. A full coach of 54 passengers costs about $1,000 each way for ferry fares, McCullough said.
McCullough’s company passes on every increase to its customers. Ferry costs account for two-thirds of what the company bills its customers for a day trip; it used to be one-third.
“We have to find a way of keeping our costs under control, but it seems that B.C. Ferries doesn’t need to find ways,” he said.
On 22 of 24 routes, the actual cost of transporting a vehicle on a ferry ranges from $5 to $2,000 more than the fare paid, B.C. Transportation Minister Mary Polak wrote in the Times Colonist in November.
The corporation is looking to cut $26 million through service adjustments in the next three years, but how that happens won’t be made public until after the May 14 election. B.C. Ferries’ total operating expenses in 2011-2012 were $682.7 million. The province contributed $185 million with a further $25 million from the federal government.
Fare increases lead to decreased traffic and damage the quality of life on the smaller islands. The April 1 increase will cause more deterioration, said spokesman Brian Hollingshead of the Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs.
Even on the profitable Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay route, there were about 10,000 fewer buses, 150,000 fewer vehicles and 476,000 fewer passengers in 2012 compared with 2006, according to Victoria Tourism statistics.
Frank Bourree of Chemistry Consulting said a fare increase is “never good news” for tourism, but this one dovetails with a big drop in U.S. visitors coming to Canada. In December, he noted, one million more Canadians went south than Americans came north.
He fears that more B.C. and Alberta residents will opt to go south rather than pay for ferry travel to the Island due to last year’s boost in duty-free merchandise allowed after a 48-hour trip.
Beginning April 1, an adult fare on the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay route will be $15.50, up from $14.85; the charge for a car increases to $51.25, from $49.25.
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