Is hiking ferry fares fair?

Expect the spectre of dramatically higher ferry fares to become a political football as both of B.C.’s major parties grope their way toward new leaders.

Expect the spectre of dramatically higher ferry fares to become a political football as both of B.C.’s major parties grope their way toward new leaders.

Although a possible leap in fares doesn’t resonate with people in non-coastal places, and will never rival HST outrage, the long-simmering issue could have legs for some voters leading up to the next B.C. election.

Blaming “soft” ridership and rising costs, BC Ferries CEO David Hahn is asking ferries commissioner Martin Crilly of Comox for permission to increase rates by up to 26 per cent each year from 2012 to 2016 on northern routes, 14 per cent on minor routes and five per cent for major routes.

Fares would rise dramatically, Hahn added, unless Victoria adds $25 million to its annual subsidy of almost $150 million.

George Abbott got an oar in the water quickly by calling for a review of BC Ferries funding. Fellow B.C. Liberal Party candidate Kevin Falcon called for calm, saying BC Ferries is well run and that it won’t automatically get the fare increases it seeks.

NDP leadership candidate John Horgan referred to Hahn’s request as “political blackmail” and ferries critic Gary Coons called Hahn a “million-dollar man,” referring to his salary.

In this election-style atmosphere, real issues risk being buried in political rhetoric and posturing.

The Liberals created the current ferries structure, and NDP mismanagement in the 1990s helped to put the “private” company in its current financial position, so neither side can afford to be sanctimonious.

As Crilly prepares a preliminary ruling by the end of next month, debate should centre on the most financially responsible solution that keeps fares within the reach of many coastal residents who rely on the service.

Unless, of course, the provincial government is OK with the B.C. coast and its islands being populated only by wealthy Albertans and Saudi sheikhs. editor@comoxvalleyrecord.com