BC Ferries. Cut service, further subsidize or raise rates?

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Al Czervic
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BC Ferries. Cut service, further subsidize or raise rates?

Post by Al Czervic »

BC Ferries.

I would like to have an open and honest discussion about BC Ferries. First let’s deal with the facts.

B.C. Ferries is ALREADY heavily subsidized by the taxpayer’s of British Columbia (and Canada actually) to the tune of $ 180 Million annually.

Over the past three years BC Ferries has witnessed an increase in total costs of close to $ 100 million…..up to the current annual costs level of $ 660 million for this past year. What is interesting is that of those costs, administration expenses have actually been reduced by $ 7 million and the newer ships have lowered the maintenance costs by three million meaning that largest factor increasing costs is operations (an increase of nearly $ 50 million alone in this area over the past three years) and amortization. Paying for these new ferries and related capital upgrades has also increased costs by roughly $ 50 Million over the last three years. In short it is simply costing more money to run BC Ferries and clearly David Hahn’s $ 1 million salary is not the problem.

As I see it BC Ferries has two options. They must increase revenues and they must find ways to lower their operating costs. Ultimately this means either an increase in user fees (or alternatively an increased in the annual government subsidy) or decreased (read cut) services. Either way as I see it coastal Ferry dependent communities are going to have some difficult decisions ahead of them.

As a taxpayer would you rather see your subsidy to BC Ferries increase? Reduced service levels ? or increased ferry rates for the people who actually use the ferries ? I personally favor service reductions otherwise the other two simply become an ongoing and never ending needs list. I also believe that BC Ferries instead of coming out with the “we need more money demands” needs to start better educating the BC public. Show what the costs are, what certain runs cost and consult with ferry communities on what runs they think they could live without in order to avoid major fee increases.

I also think that BC Ferries needs to show some leadership as well. Do they really need to advertise at BC Place? Are British Columbian's really unaware that BC Ferries exist and you need them to visit Vancouver Island or the Gulf Islands? As taxpayers we also need to show some leadership and be better informed so we understand that really it is the operating costs of running a huge ferry fleet that are the reasons why costs have increased and it is all not the fault of David Hahn, his $ 1 million salary or the fact that he is an American to blame. I am not defending the salary but pointing out that complaining about one cherry in a cherry pie is fruitless exercise.
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Re: BC Ferries. Cut service, further subsidize or raise rate

Post by I Think »

Personally, my vote would be to increase subsidies, and possibly reduce fares.
Reasons;
Being on a relatively fixed income I find myself unable to justify using the ferries because of cost. We have a daughter that lives in Victoria and another that lives in Seattle, we go to Seattle then use the Port Angeles ferry to get to the Island, or sometimes park on the Vancouver side and walk on, which is affordable.
To take my motor home across is over $100 each way.
Imo the high cost of ferry transit cuts into the viability of moving goods between the island(s) and mainland thus reducing jobs, especially those that are not generating high profit margins.
There are a number of motor home owners who do not use the ferries much, further reducing the number of jobs that their custom would create.
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Re: BC Ferries. Cut service, further subsidize or raise rate

Post by NAB »

Might be worth gathering some data on how the ferry system on the east coast is financed and run for comparison. Even other places in the world.

I realize at least some of the system, say the mainland - Nanaimo route, should receive subsidization (perhaps even "free" as part of the Trans Canada highway system), but beyond that perhaps the rest should be required to operate independantly, perhaps even privatized. For example, I'm not convinced that the Northern Route should be subsidized in any way, or even need to exist for that matter.

The critical route for most Islanders is between the Island and the mainland, and it has become prohibitively expensive over the past decade for many to do so very ioften, particularly those of us who would like to extend our RV'ing territory and enjoy the rest of BC and Canada more often.

When you stop and think about it, the only major concentrations of folk in Canada who operate under such limitations in terms of surface mobility and related affordability are those who live in Newfoundland, ....and Vancouver Island.

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Re: BC Ferries. Cut service, further subsidize or raise rate

Post by Nebula »

The question on my mind at the moment is whether the problem for two posters here is that fares have become prohibitively expensive or is it that they own RVs. To what extent should I subsidize your desire to travel afar with your creature comforts?
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Re: BC Ferries. Cut service, further subsidize or raise rate

Post by NAB »

Nebula wrote:The question on my mind at the moment is whether the problem for two posters here is that fares have become prohibitively expensive or is it that they own RVs. To what extent should I subsidize your desire to travel afar with your creature comforts?


That's just an example Nebula. I consider it no different really than folk on the mainland who can go virtually anywhere they want 'equitably". Sure, I suppose you might follow up with well, if living on Vancouver Island (or in Newfoundland) is such a limitation, then move.

I would suggest however that your comment could have been couched, in line with the apparent spirit of this forum, in terms that didn't try to isolate "two posters here" as someone seeking special treatment at your personal expense, thus making an attempt to reduce the conversation to a personal level. Thousands of people own RV's, and thousands of businesses (and employees of those businesses) make their living from that segment of the tourism industry.

We wouldn't even mind paying a toll to cross the new Okanagan lake Bridge, or transit the Coquihalla highway.

Edit to add: Other than that, if addressing the issue that Al C has raised doesn't interest you, you of course have the option of not participating in the discussion.

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Re: BC Ferries. Cut service, further subsidize or raise rate

Post by Nebula »

The reason I singled out "two posters" is because two posters raised the same issue and I suspect they will suffice to be an example of the rest of those who belong to the same group. Doing so was not against the spirit or intent of this forum.

Of course I do not have to participate in the discussion. I merely challenged statements made pertaining to excessive cost.
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Re: BC Ferries. Cut service, further subsidize or raise rate

Post by NAB »

Then at least try to keep it impersonal, and to the topic. I happen to like my "creature comforts" when travelling, but they have nothing to do with the issue IMO.

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Re: BC Ferries. Cut service, further subsidize or raise rate

Post by Nebula »

You raised the issue, Nab, along with Nibs. Both of you mentioned the high cost of use of the ferry system when using an RV. You brought the 'personal' aspect into this debate, so it is rather unfair of you to ask me to keep my points impersonal.

Since you and Nibs are the originators of the points about RVs, I don't see how it is possible that my comments are off topic by raising them in my own posts. Finally, if your desire for creature comforts has nothing to do with the topic, why did you raise the issue?

Overall, I am on the fence on subsidies versus raising rates. I do feel ferries are the highway for some. I also believe there should be a limit to how much everyone pays toward the infrastructure for those who live off the beaten path.
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Re: BC Ferries. Cut service, further subsidize or raise rate

Post by NAB »

Nebula wrote:You raised the issue, Nab, along with Nibs. Both of you mentioned the high cost of use of the ferry system when using an RV. You brought the 'personal' aspect into this debate, so it is rather unfair of you to ask me to keep my points impersonal.

Since you and Nibs are the originators of the points about RVs, I don't see how it is possible that my comments are off topic by raising them in my own posts. Finally, if your desire for creature comforts has nothing to do with the topic, why did you raise the issue?

Overall, I am on the fence on subsidies versus raising rates. I do feel ferries are the highway for some. I also believe there should be a limit to how much everyone pays toward the infrastructure for those who live off the beaten path.


Interprete it as you wish Nebula, but I see nothing wrong with my asking you to keep your comments impersonal and on topic. The points raised regarding the question of affordability goes far beyond RV's, you just chose to rag on that specific example.

But now at least you have gotten constructive with your last para, as I agree with the "off the beaten path" part of it. I do however have a bit of a problem with what appears to be the suggestion that Vancouver Island (and its primary connection to the rest of BC) is off the beaten path. But I have already suggested that I do not agree with subsidies for the Northern route, and most of the sub islands, ...just as I would oppose subsidies for folk who choose to live in any other out of the way place.

Hell, whan ya think about it, Vancouver Island is not much different from PEI, and they are a complete province! And I seem to recall Vancouver Island's ever growing population is not much less than Newfoundland's, and they are a separate province too.

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steven lloyd
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Re: BC Ferries. Cut service, further subsidize or raise rate

Post by steven lloyd »

Quite the dilemma isn’t it? On the one hand the ferry routes are technically a part of our public highway system and in that sense should be subsidized by public funds. After all, no matter where you live in the province you are paying for the Sea to Sky Highway, the new bridge over Okanagan Lake, the highway improvement between Peachland and Summerland, etc. and there are already highly neglected highways throughout the province outside of the lower mainland (this includes the issue of road maintenance which has become a disaster due to privatization of road maintenance services). On the other hand, as Al alluded to elsewhere, some of these small coastal island coastal communities are little more than resort-type retirement homes for the wealthy or highly reclusive and no one is forcing anyone to live under such remote, isolated conditions. I think it might make sense to look at reducing services and/or raising fees on some isolated runs so that other major runs can be maintained or perhaps even improved.

As a part of our public highway system I think privatization has been a mistake. Would we privatize the Trans Canada next? Obviously people are going to argue that gross inefficiencies occurred under public management and I cannot dispute that as I don’t know enough, but I do know there are always more solutions to a problem than are presented by one rigid ideological way of thinking. I am certainly not against all privatization, but I do believe there are services, critical to the public interest, that should be delivered by government and not operated for-profit.

I couldn’t agree with Nabs in eliminating the Northern Route either, but perhaps he could elucidate his reasoning for that. I know I’ve looked at taking that route to travel from Prince Rupert to Nanaimo and then to Vancouver but calculated it was cheaper for both my wife and I to fly return and rent a car from the airport so I don’t know how subsidized that option is.
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Re: BC Ferries. Cut service, further subsidize or raise rate

Post by I Think »

I think the two posters who mention RV's may well represent a significantly higher number of other travelers. The fact that the two RVers normally are 180 deg in apposition is remarkable in its own light. The cost of driving a car onto the BC Ferries system is very high, and thus for many people prohibitive. The fact that I believe that the high cost of moving vehicles by ferry hurts the economy of both the mainland and the island remains undiscussed.
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Re: BC Ferries. Cut service, further subsidize or raise rate

Post by Nebula »

Taking more money out of my pocket to subsidize ferry routes does not improve the economy; certainly not from my standpoint. There has to be a balance somewhere.
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steven lloyd
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Re: BC Ferries. Cut service, further subsidize or raise rate

Post by steven lloyd »

Nebula wrote:Taking more money out of my pocket to subsidize ferry routes does not improve the economy; certainly not from my standpoint. There has to be a balance somewhere.

Transportation of goods is critical to the economy. You might also consider that money is leaving the pockets of taxpayers from across the province to pay for the bridge over Okanagan Lake. Just a point to regard.
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Re: BC Ferries. Cut service, further subsidize or raise rate

Post by Nebula »

I understand that, Steven. However, if the government were to take all of our money (every nickel) to build gold plated roads and deluxe ferry routes, would that still be 'improving' the economy? At some point improvement becomes merely shifting money from one place to another.
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Re: BC Ferries. Cut service, further subsidize or raise rate

Post by NAB »

I'll address my thoughts on the Northern Route when time permits Steven. Suffice to say at this point that I do no believe BC Ferries should be involved in the cruise business, which I see that route as primarily. That is of course provided that it does not require subsidization and, more importantly, operates profitably in its own right - stand alone!

Al raised the Thetis Island service, which is a bit of a conundrum. Yes it services Thetis, but the other Island on its loop is primarily First Nations occupancy. Nuff said. But if you visit the BC Ferries site, one I would draw attention to is Gabriola Island - Nanaimo. No subsidies for that one IMO.

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