Premier Christy Clark appears to have ruled out more rate hikes for BC Ferries, leaving the struggling corporation without government approval to cut routes, raise prices or access more public funding.
Clark praised Transportation Minister Todd Stone’s “right decision” this week to forbid the ferry corporation from considering closing one of Nanaimo’s two ferry terminals or scrapping a Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay route — key suggestions to save money BC Ferries had said it wanted to discuss publicly.
The premier also appeared to close the door on allowing BC Ferries to increase ticket prices.
“Our No. 1 focus is to make sure we preserve as low a fare an environment as we can, to make sure that we don’t let the fares go up any more,” said Clark.
“Frankly, I think the fares are about as high as they can get without really impacting ridership.”
The move leaves BC Ferries with little room to manoeuvre as it tries to cut costs to deal with slumping ridership.
BC Ferries has said it only has three options available — raise fares, reduce service or obtain more government funding.
Stone ruled out major service cuts, and Finance Minister Mike de Jong earlier this week said his budget is too tight to commit to additional ferry subsidies.
Ferries CEO Mike Corrigan had said fare hikes are one of the only remaining options. But Clark sunk that idea as well. Corrigan was unavailable for comment on Friday
Despite the restrictions, the B.C. government has asked ferries to find efficiencies that would let it trim operating costs and its estimated $3.1 billion capital budget to build new vessels and conduct terminal upgrades over the next 12 years.
Clark said she thinks the ferry corporation’s “financial gap is closing and the transport minister is doing a great job getting them on track financially.”
The B.C. Liberal government made BC Ferries a quasi-private entity in 2002 to avoid political interference in operation of the ferry system.