B.C. Ferries adding 3.5% fuel surcharge to fares

B.C. Ferries is responding to the rising cost of diesel fuel by adding a surcharge to most routes as of Jan. 17.

The 3.5 per cent fuel surcharge was announced Thursday, with only the Port Hardy-Prince Rupert and Prince Rupert-Haida Gwaii routes not affected. Major routes, such as Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen, will see a jump in fares of $1.75 for a car and 50 cents for an adult passenger.

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B.C. Ferries also has a four per cent across-the-board fare increase scheduled for April. It implemented a similar increase in April 2013.

At present, the fare for a passenger age 12 and up is $15.50 on major routes, while for vehicles up to six metres long it’s $51.25.

Brian Hollingshead, who chairs the ferry advisory committee for the southern Gulf Islands, said the fuel surcharge combined with the fare hike in April will effectively mean a combined 7.5 per cent fare increase “and that’s going to hurt traffic big-time.”

He said it could also contribute to people on the Gulf Islands deciding to move away or close their businesses.

A 7.5 per cent jump in current prices would put the cost for an adult passenger on a major route at about $16.65 and for an average passenger vehicle at about $55.10. Final costs have not been set.

“We know this is unpopular with our customers,” B.C. Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall said of the fuel surcharge. “We are trying to keep it as low as we can. If we waited longer we would have to put in a higher fuel surcharge.

“Some of our counterparts back east, they’ve got fuel surcharges in excess of 20 per cent.”

Marshall said the last time B.C. Ferries had a fuel surcharge was November 2012. The current cost of diesel is about $1.09 per litre, versus $1.03 per litre in June 2013 and an average of $1 per litre during December 2012.

B.C. Ferries listed fuel surcharges at other transportation operations around the country as of mid-December, including 21 per cent for Marine Atlantic’s Newfoundland-Nova Scotia ferry, from 23 to 25 per cent for passenger vehicles sailing on Northumberland Ferries from Nova Scotia to New Brunswick and eight per cent on Victoria Clipper trips between Victoria and Seattle.

NDP ferries critic and North Island MLA Claire Trevena said the B.C. Ferries’ decision to add a surcharge is not justified.

“We know that we’re going to get a four per cent fare increase in April. We’ve got B.C. Ferries going around and the government going around talking about service reductions, and then out of the blue they’re saying: ‘Oh, and by the way, in two weeks you’re going to get an average three-and-a-half per cent added to your price.’ This is crazy.”

Among service reductions announced in November were cuts to schedules on minor coastal routes and a loss of eight per cent of the ferry system’s annual sailings. In addition, seniors’ free weekday fares will be changed to half-price tickets and slot machines will be installed on some vessels in an effort to bring in revenue.

B.C. Ferries president and CEO Mike Corrigan said a fuel surcharge is needed now because fuel prices are not likely to drop soon. He said efforts are being made to deal with future fuel concerns through measures such as buying new ships that can use less expensive liquefied natural gas.

Fuel consumption at B.C. Ferries has dropped by 5.8 million litres since 2004, but over the same period fuel costs have gone up from $50 million to $121 million per fiscal year.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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