Victorians have a say on the future of B.C. Ferries on Wednesday, when the provincial government brings its travelling consultations to town.
The province wants your suggestions on how to cut $26 million from ferry costs through 2016, and strategies for saving money over the long-term.
As ferry users pore over the feedback forms, ranking the unpalatable options the government offers, it's a good time to think about B.C.'s hypocrisy on transportation policy - or, more accurately, transportation policies. One policy for the Lower Mainland and one for Vancouver Island.
The policy for the Island seems to be inaction. Vancouver's new Port Mann Bridge, touted as the widest bridge in the world, opened Monday at a cost of $3.3 billion for the bridge and highway upgrades. The Canada Line rail link from Richmond to downtown Vancouver cost $2.05 billion.
Hunt around for similar spending on Vancouver Island, and the list will be short. The government promised $8 million for concrete median barriers to make the Malahat safer, and chipped in $4.9 million for the Spencer Road interchange and $10.5 million for the McTavish Road interchange. The other big transportation project in this area is the Johnson Street Bridge, which is being built with no contribution from the province.
You have to look back many years to find an Island transportation project that had significant provincial dollars attached: The Vancouver Island Highway Project, conceived by the Social Credit government in 1988 and started in the early 1990s by the NDP, cost $1.3 billion.
When it was completed in 2001, the new Liberal government even refused to cough up some money to celebrate the "last spike," saying money was tight.
Everyone can understand when money is tight, but people on the Island can't understand why money is tight for one region and plentiful for another.
Ferries are the service that most provokes the ire of Islanders. Since the Liberal government turned the ferry corporation into an independent company in 2003, the dream of turning it into a rationalized company free from government interference has not come true. The current round of consultations is one example: It is being run by the provincial Transportation Ministry, not by the B.C. Ferry Corp.
Once again, the province is driving the corporation to find savings so taxpayers don't have to pump more money, not even for capital costs, into the allegedly independent ferry operation.
Islanders and Gulf Islanders are asked to rank a list of six options for cost-cutting. Five include the words "service reductions" and the sixth talks about reconsidering basic levels of service, which sounds like more service reductions.
Making the ferry service more efficient is in everyone's interest, and former CEO David Hahn did good work in that area, but the provincial government seems ready to stand on its head rather than admit that the ferries are an essential part of life on the coast that should be subsidized by taxpayers, if necessary, to maintain service.
Travellers on Upper Arrow Lake will soon be able to take a new 80-car ferry between Galena Bay and Shelter Bay, after the province awarded a contract for $26.5 million for the vessel. The government pays $21.4 million a year to fund the inland ferries. It never asks for a penny from the people who ride those ferries. And there are no tortured public consultations on how to contain those costs.
Victoria's small-group meeting is from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday at the Hotel Grand Pacific. The open house is from 6 to 9 p.m. at the same location. You have to register in advance for the small meeting, but the open house is available to everyone.
Go and make yourself heard.
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