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Province won't bail out troubled ferries: Falcon

Transportation minister Kevin Falcon said there will be no extra money for B.C. Ferries, despite second quarter results showing the government-owned company is bleeding riders and money.

In the sixth months ended September 30, passenger traffic was down 5.3 percent from the same period last year and vehicle traffic was down 6.1 percent. Net earnings for the six-month period were $62.1 million, down $13.3 million from 2007.

“Not too surprising,” said Falcon, reacting to the numbers. B.C. Ferries is caught in the general economic slowdown, he said.

In October Premier Gordon Campbell announced a $20 million subsidy to B.C. Ferries to reduce fares and restore service levels for two months.

“It's one of the reasons we want to provide that 33 percent discount for December and January, give a shot in the arm to the island communities and hopefully encourage families to link up over the holiday period while we wait for the balance of the fuel surcharge to come off.”

A chart on the B.C. Ferry Commission's website shows the subsidy will briefly bring fares down to 2003 levels before they shoot up again.

Ferry riders should not expect further subsidies, Falcon said. “There's not any intention to be able to keep that going, especially given the economic circumstances,” he said. “I honestly think there's an affordability issue. We already . . . provide $150 million a year to keep B.C. Ferries fares affordable.”

With decreased earnings, a drop in traffic and interest costs rising, B.C. Ferries is in serious trouble, said NDP ferries critic Gary Coons. “It's a pretty grim tale out there,” he said. “It's looking like a perfect storm for the government.”

The public needs to see the government doing more to protect the service, he said. “Ever since the privatization model came in, the Premier has had no accountability for the file. They've had no scrutiny at all and the public deserves answers.”

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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