Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On buses, boats and planes and the financial pain of airport access

One of the key elements for this year's City of Prince Rupert Financial planning is the growing deficit faced by the Digby Island Ferry, a financial burden that is closing in on 900,000 dollars for 2014 and clearly having an impact on how the City puts together its financial forecast.

The topic of access to the Airport made for much discussion on Monday night, ranging from recommendation from Councillor Ashley that the city should consider raising the rate of passage on the Ferry to some background information from former Mayor Don Scott and his thoughts that the city should be making its case to the province to take over the cost of that access.

On the proposed Ferry Rate increases, Councillor Ashley outlined some of her financial review on the airport ferry and how an increase of fifteen dollars for transit on the ferry would provided some relief to the growing cost of operations.

Her recommendation provided for some council members to offer caution on that theme, suggesting that an increase of the airport ferry rates may in fact drive traffic away from the airport towards the Terrace airport.

Councillor Garon, had a number of questions regarding Councillor Ashley's figures regarding the return to the city of the proposed increased rates.

She then called on her experience with the Airport Society and suggested that before Council makes any decision on a possible fare increase that they meet with the Airport to learn more about the impact such an increase may have on their operations.

With that suggestion on the table, discussion on the proposal for an airport ferry increase (and the overall discussion on the financial plan) for the most part came to an end until Council meets with the Airport society to gain further information on the topic.

You can review those discussions from the City Council Video Archive from the 2 hour thirty five minute mark up to the 2 hour fifty eight minute mark.

The theme of responsibility for airport access was introduced by former Mayor Don Scott, who offered up some thoughts  in the public comment portion of the Committee of the Whole part of the night's session.

He asked council if the city had pursued the issue of the Digby Island ferry further with the province.

Offering up the suggestion that in other areas of the province the highway would be extended to and the provincial government covers the cost of these kinds of transportation requirements.

Adding that he believes that access to airports is the responsibility of the provincial government.

The Mayor outlined that in the past the province has disputed that fact, he then went on outline some past funding on a study for more effective airport ferry study that would provide for a route from the ferry that would reduce the transit time to ten minutes.

That study was presented to the provincial government, which then advised that until there was enough demand from industry to warrant the change.  Leaving it to the city of Prince Rupert to decide to make those changes on their own. The Mayor then he suggested that with the prospect of increased economic development that project may be more feasible.

Mr. Scott then returned to the prospect of pursuing a legal opinion on the provincial responsibility towards airport access.

The Mayor advised that as it stands, the province continues to refuse responsibility for the road on the airport.

Councillor Thorkelson asked further of Mr. Scott as to why he believes the province is responsible for the airport access, he then outlined he believes it's part of their regulations and policies and recounted his time as Mayor and discussions with then City Manager Smith on the topic.

He suggested a review of the existing provincial policies and why the province continues to ignore Prince Rupert's access to the airport.

With that information Council asked staff to contact the Airport Society to explore the issue further, with Councillor Garon outlining that she believes the city should continue to push the province on the issue and seek clarification.

You can review Mr. Scott's presentation on the airport ferry issue from the City's Video Archive he begins his review at the 1 hour thirty eight minute mark, the discussion continues on to the 1 hour fifty three minute mark.

The twin themes of concern on the airport access issue, will clearly have a key impact on the city's financial prospects, so taking Mr. Scott's suggestion to explore the issue further with the province seems like a worthwhile use of legal resources.

It also is something that the local MLA for the North Coast should take up as part of her duties at the Legislature, seeking to learn more about why access in some communities is provided by the province but not on the North Coast.

You can find more  on the discussion points from City Council from our archive page.

For more on the theme of developments with the Prince Rupert Airport see our archive page on transportation.

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