BC Ferries is drifting toward the rocks.
Long gone from its creation in 1960 as a Crown corporation is a mandate to nurture coastal communities.
It was accepted then that ferries were part of B.C.’s transportation system. In recent years, BC Ferries has been run more as a high-end tourism experience.
That’s not a bad plan considering how important tourism is to B.C.’s economy since the collapse of our resource-extraction industries. Still, that focus has diminished the ferries’ role as a lifeline to coastal residents.
The Fast Cats fiasco was merely a spectacular example of a succession of NDP and right-of-centre governments playing politics with a precious public resource.
Instead of responsibly paying to replace aging vessels and diligently overhauling significant infrastructure that includes docks, politicians have burnished their budgets at election time.
The rising cost of fuel, levelling of Canadian and U.S. currencies, and an international recession have punched B.C. tourism in the solar plexus.
All this has exposed a ferry fleet that is on average 30 years old even with some grand new vessels.
BC Ferries and the government, no matter how much it would like to pretend it isn’t responsible, are navigating through treacherous waters.
Operating one of the world’s largest ferry fleets, BC Ferries faces declining ridership and therefore lower revenue.
Dropping lightly used sailings this winter will help, but raising fares 12 per cent over three years while cutting service won’t increase ridership.
The cash-strapped government augmented B.C. Ferries’ subsidies by $80 million earlier this year to limit even more dramatic fare increases, but ratcheting up the subsidy is not a long-term solution by itself.
Transportation Minister Mary Polak will start public consultations next month. Delays or missteps in plotting a course are not an option. There’s too much at stake.