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Loss of free ferry passes outrages seniors

Some B.C. seniors are outraged with a government decision to cancel their free ferry passes.
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"I don't understand why they'd have to hit the seniors first when there's other things to do," said Gary Carpentier, a 73-year-old Lake Cowichan resident waiting in line at the Swartz Bay ferry terminal on Monday.

Some B.C. seniors are outraged with a government decision to cancel their free ferry passes.

“I don’t understand why they’d have to hit the seniors first when there’s other things to do,” said Gary Carpentier, a 73-year-old Lake Cowichan resident waiting in line at the Swartz Bay ferry terminal on Monday.

“I think there’s better ways of collecting money than to hit the seniors.”

Carpentier and B.C. seniors groups heaped scorn on a government decision Monday to cancel free ferry passes for B.C. residents older than 65, who currently ride free Monday through Thursday on most routes.

Starting April 1, seniors will have to pay 50 per cent of their ticket price, the government said.

“It’s terrible,” said Carpentier, who was waiting to board a ferry to Pender Island.

“I’m very disappointed in that decision because I think, again, the most vulnerable people in our communities have been targeted,” said Dave Sinclair, president of the B.C. Seniors Living Association.

“Everybody as a senior is on a fixed income and this is going to impact them considerably.

“A lot of them travel back and forth to visit family and grandchildren.”

About 1.5 million B.C. seniors used the free ferry pass system last year. As many as 150,000 are expected not to travel at all because of the changes, government officials admitted during a background media briefing.

The change is forecast to save the corporation $6 million a year.

That’s a small amount of money considering what the government spends in health care to try to keep seniors active, social and living independently, said Edie Copland, executive director of Silver Threads, a non-profit service for seniors in Greater Victoria.

“It’s outrageous,” Copland said of the changes. She said many seniors tell her they rely on the ferry pass to visit family and stay in touch socially.

At least 25 per cent of seniors have an annual income of less than $20,000 and they can’t afford the fees, said Copland.

It’s unclear if the price hikes will cause seniors to curtail travel.

Sinclair said many already choose to pay because they want to visit their children or grandchildren on the weekend, when the free ticket doesn’t apply.

And he said many seniors still choose to pay for a vehicle, because the walk to board a ferry on foot is too long.

The free seniors program was a “nice gesture” by the government toward a vulnerable segment of society, Sinclair said.

For Carpentier, who has a brother on Pender Island, losing the free fare won’t alter his travel plans.

“I think we’re going to do it regardless,” he said of travelling on the ferry once free passes are eliminated.

“It’s timing, and when we want to go. But are we in favour of it? No.”

rshaw@timescolonist.com