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Consultation about ferries 'absolute waste of time '

The Province plans to implement measures to save nearly $19 million in coastal ferry costs this spring. Plans are also in place to reduce the seniors' discount and to pursue a pilot gaming project.

Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone says "tough decisions" are necessary to ensure an "affordable, efficient and sustainable" service.

Tony Law, Denman-Hornby representative on the Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs, questions if the measures will address long-term problems.

"I think in a couple of years they're going to be back scratching their heads wondering what to do," Law said Wednesday when government made public the 2013 B.C. Coastal Ferries Engagement Summary Report. "These measures they're putting in place are not going to generate a huge amount of money."

Taxpayers have provided $86.6 million to BC Ferries to 2016 to help reduce pressure on fares, a ministry news release says. The corporation says it's on track to find $54 million in efficiency improvements to 2016 — which leaves $18.9 million to be saved over the next two years to meet price cap requirements.

Reduced service on minor and northern routes will save $14 million. Mid-day sailings could be eliminated on some runs in favour of retaining early-morning or late-evening sailings. Final schedules will be made public by the end of March.

The ministry says more than 3,700 British Columbians participated in public meetings during an engagement process that ended in December.

"From our point of view, it was an absolute waste of time because they asked very generalized questions. Each route is different," Law said. "It's unfortunate that government didn't sit down with communities in the beginning (18 months ago since announcing a new approach), rather than making unilateral decisions and giving us little time to come up with alternatives for BC Ferries."

Despite efforts by the FACC and other groups, Comox Valley Regional District board chair Edwin Grieve feels the Province is focused on the "narrow interest of this quasi-private corporation" but deaf to the greater impact to Island and Coastal communities.

The full extent of impacts that will translate into huge revenue losses to the Province and to local governments will become apparent in coming months, added Grieve, a member of the Coastal Regional District Chairs.

"What communities need to do is pause and reframe this issue in a manner that this government can understand," Grieve said. "It's about the economy. And by the time that message is understood, it will be too late and the damage will be done."

As of April 1, seniors will pay half price Monday to Thursday on major and minor routes. At present, those on the far side of 65 board free of charge on those days. Government says additional revenue from seniors' fares will help reduce pressure for future fare increases.

Courtenay senior Cliff Boldt suggests government should raise revenue through fair and progressive taxes based on ability to pay, not through fee and rate increases that hit hardest at those who have the least.

"Not all seniors are poor, but many do live on fixed incomes," Boldt said. "The government’s actions in regard to ferry services is making a bad scene worse."

Revenue generated from slot machines on a major route is also intended to reduce fare increase pressures, according to government.

"It sounds like a very desperate measure," Law said of gambling on ferries.

reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com

 

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