Ferries CEO: Fare hikes possible due to Nanaimo about-face

Expect more pressure for fare increases, higher government subsidies or service reductions in the wake of the government’s refusal to consider changes to major routes, including a single ferry terminal in Nanaimo, says the B.C. Ferries CEO.

“If the government wants to maintain its goal of inflationary fare increases going forward, then they are going to have to increase funding to B.C. Ferries and/or reduce services from the current levels — which I don’t think they want to do,” Mike Corrigan said.

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B.C. Ferries was considering changes to its major routes between Vancouver Island and the mainland — including potentially closing a terminal in Nanaimo — as part of a plan presented Sept. 30 to ferry commissioner Gordon Macatee to drive down capital costs. The commissioner regulates fares and service levels and acts independently of the provincial government and B.C. Ferries Inc.

On Tuesday, Transportation Minister Todd Stone said he would consider the proposals. But by Wednesday, he said he had been persuaded of the importance of preserving the service, and that there would continue to be two terminals in Nanaimo.

“This is not an initiative we’d like to pursue at this time,” Stone said Wednesday.

“Over the last 24 hours, I’ve had some good conversations with my Island colleagues,” Stone said. “They’ve made some very strong and eloquent arguments. … They don’t believe closing one of the two terminals at Nanaimo would be a good thing.”

Consolidating Nanaimo’s two terminals was just one option up for discussion in light of $200 million in upgrades needed at Horseshoe Bay and a capital plan of $3.1 billion over the next 12 years to upgrade terminals and buy ferries, Corrigan said.

“It’s surprising that so quickly there’s been a change in direction,” he said. “Essentially, what the government has done is taken the discussion around the major route strategies off the table, and for us that’s pretty significant because we’re doing everything we can to minimize fare increases and keep costs down.”

Major routes represent 80 per cent of B.C. Ferries’ costs, Corrigan said, noting that there are limited opportunities to reduce costs.

“There will be a lot more upward pressure on fares now as a result of this decision,” he said.

The prospect of losing the city’s link to Horseshoe Bay or having the Departure Bay terminal close was a big concern for Nanaimo officials.

Stone’s statement Wednesday was cheered by Dave Petryk, president and CEO of Nanaimo-based Tourism Vancouver Island.

“We’re very dependent on access with this being an island, and the ferries are very key,” Petryk said. “Having access both at Nanaimo and Victoria is really important because of the circle-type touring that a lot of visitors use.”

Details of the proposal were in a document called Strategies for Enhanced Efficiency submitted by B.C. Ferries to the B.C. Ferry Commission.

The consolidation at Duke Point was just one element of a four-part plan filed with the B.C. Ferry Commission, Corrigan said.

Stone said there were other aspects of the report the government does not support.

“There are a few ideas in this report the government is not interested in pursuing and we’ve communicated that to B.C. Ferries,” Stone said.

He also ruled out a passenger-only ferry from Nanaimo, saying the government has no interest in supporting such an operation.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

charnett@timescolonist.com

— With a file from The Canadian Press

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