Friday, October 25, 2013

Ferry Advisory Committee calls Ferry funding issue an "unnecessary crisis"

With the British Columbia Government collecting opinion and observations as part of its 2014 Budget consultation process, the advocates for coastal ferry transportation have offered up their thoughts on the current status of the ferry system.

The main takeaway of their presentation being a request, that the provincial government adjust its plans for the coastal ferry service and increase funding towards it.

Their overview of the current situation facing the coastal ferry system, comes following a review of the consultation and engagement process which was released  in the fall of 2012.

Those conversations and findings, in part were steered by the January 2012 report from the BC Ferry Commissioner.

A document which has made for much in the way of discussion, as well as a fair amount of concern for those in smaller coastal communities that are served by the ferry system.

Reflecting much of that background on the issue, the Chairs of the Ferry Advisory Committee have provided a fifteen page submission for the Budget consultation.

A review which calls the current scenario facing the ferry system as an "unnecessary crisis" and delivers a number of points towards making the Ferry Services along the British Columbia coast sustainable.

Key among those items:

Sustainability starts with affordability, highlighting the current level of fares to travel on the ferry system and how it provides for an "affordability death spiral". They also outlined how in their opinion, the user fee principle is working against higher traffic levels on the system.

The Committee offered up three scenarios to stimulate more traffic for the Ferry fleet, calling for a freeze or even a roll back on Ferry fares, which they believe will deliver more traffic and more revenues to the system.

They recommended that the province provide more capital funding for the Ferry system, particularly for those vessels that serve the minor routes of the coastal system.  Towards that funding, they suggested that the province should go over its history and learn some useful lessons on funding gaps that have been building through the decades.

They also highlighted the theme, that if the province were to treat coastal ferries like other forms of provincial transportation, then the crisis in the system would be eliminated.

Towards that theme they draw comparisons to other infrastructure in the province, such as roads, bridges, airports, transit and inland ferries all of which require government support. Asking why there is a distinction between the coastal ferries and that provincial infrastructure.

The conclusion to their presentation to the government highlights how they believe the ferry system is a deal for taxpayers and that any vision moving forward for the Ferry system should involve a vision for coastal communities.

The closing points perhaps designed to remind the government of the integral role that the Ferry system plays in many communities up and down the British Columbia coast.

The final line of the summation, providing what appears to have been the guiding principle of their presentation.

"In order to develop a long-term vision for that service, we need to hear what is the provincial government's vision for our communities and their needs, and whether our communities have a place in the government's vision for jobs and growth."

You can review their participation in the Budget consultation process from this link to their submission.

A full review of the past work and items of interest from the Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs is available on their website.

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