photos: Top deck of a BC Ferry in July 1988. Photo: Ian Alexander Martin / flickr.

Unfair ferry fare? Victoria gears up for another rate hike

New Victoria mayor Lisa Helps weighs in on BC Ferries coming rate hikes.

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BC Ferries rates are set to go up by 3.9 per cent April 1, a date that marks the third year in a row fares have increased in an effort by the private corporation to find $30 million in net savings by 2016.

It being February, the usual community protests marking previous rate increases have yet to materialize. But newly elected Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps is concerned about the impact the increase will have on Victoria residents and businesses.

“I think of ferries as roads,” Helps says. “It would be like saying the road just got more expensive to drive on, which doesn’t make any sense. So we’ve got to get this in hand somehow.”

She adds increased gas prices failed to keep people from driving in recent years, so it’s unclear whether the rise in ferry fares will keep Victoria residents from crossing the Georgia Strait.

Still, the fare hike does add to the cost of living in her city, which has been the number-one concern for Greater Victoria residents since 2010 as indicated in the Victoria Foundation’s annual Victoria Vital Signs report.

As part of the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities and
the Union of BC Municipalities, the City of Victoria has supported ferry-related motions including calling on BC Ferries to research the economic impact of fare increases on Vancouver Island and coastal communities in the province.

But while Helps hasn’t personally discussed the issue with either BC Ferries
or the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure during the three months she has been mayor, she said BC Ferries and all levels of government—including her own council—need to consider the impact rate hikes like these have on British Columbians.

“We can no longer afford to think of these kinds of organizations in silos,” she says, listing BC Ferries, BC Hydro, and the city’s own water utilities as examples. “We have to think there’s one person paying for all of these things, and little [increases] here and there add up, and we don’t think about that.”

Todd Litman, founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, agrees affordability is an issue for ferries, which are an expensive but necessary service.

If we really want to make ferries more affordable for people on a budget, the province and BC Ferries should
be subsidizing walk-on passengers instead of cars, Litman says.

“Is it really fair that those of us who don’t live on those islands should subsidize those people who live on those islands at
a fairly high rate,” he says, “as opposed
to other types of subsidies that actually help far more low-income people?”

In order for that to work, he says BC Ferries, BC Transit, and Translink must do a better job of integrating their services.

Currently it costs $16.25 for a one-
way walk-on trip from Swartz Bay 
to Tsawwassen. Litman says the difficulties in getting to and from the terminals without a car is a more serious impediment to riding the ferries as a walk-on passenger than the ticket cost.

“For example, they don’t sell you a single ticket that gets you on the bus, on the ferry, on the bus, and on the [Skytrain],” he says. “And you have to wait, sometimes out in the rain, for the busses once you get off the ferry.”

“Obviously, BC Transit and BC Ferries planners don’t take that trip,” he adds, “or they would have done those little things to just make it easier.”

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