The NDP government expects to launch a review of B.C. Ferries this fall as it prepares to reduce fares on minor routes next spring, freeze fares on major routes and restore the full seniors’ weekday discount.
Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said the review will examine all aspects of the operation.
“We’ve not had an examination really of how B.C. Ferries is working for 16 years, so that’s what we’re going to be doing,” she said. “We’re going to be reducing fares in the spring and people are all going to be saying, ‘And what else?’ So I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to start working towards that ‘What else?’ very soon.”
Trevena said she understands that people want to see the fare changes happen quickly. But she said the government needs time to adjust its budget and increase investment in B.C. Ferries to cover the costs.
“The seniors are eager for free travel to come back, and I know the people travelling to the Lower Mainland would like to see the freeze. … It definitely will happen. There’s no question.”
The NDP promised in the election campaign to reduce fares on minor routes by 15 per cent, and allow seniors to again travel for free (passenger fare only, vehicles not included) from Monday to Thursday, except on holidays. Seniors have been paying half the adult fare since the full discount was eliminated by the former Liberal government in 2014.
The NDP platform committed to making the changes next spring at an estimated cost of $20 million annually, a figure dismissed as too low by former Liberal finance minister Mike de Jong.
In addition, the NDP said it would allow B.C. shipyards to “bid competitively on every new ferry built.”
“They say they are very eager to work with me to ensure that we can have B.C. shipyards building B.C. ferries,” Trevena said.
Nobody from the Opposition Liberals was available to comment Wednesday. But, in 2016, then-transportation minister Todd Stone noted that an NDP government was responsible for the fast- ferry program in the 1990s.
“Those fast ferries were built, ordered to be built, in British Columbia,” he said, responding to a question from Trevena in the legislature. “They were built for $462 million. The catch was that they were actually never used.
“I am not ever going to take any direction, any lessons whatsoever, from the members opposite on best practices as related to vessel procurement.”
Deborah Marshall, executive director of public affairs at B.C. Ferries, said the corporation is ready to work with the new NDP government and provide any information needed.
“I know that Mark Collins, our president and CEO, had an initial meeting with the minister the other day and that went very well. We’re happy and eager to work with them.”