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Lower fares, not weather, drove summer ferry traffic

The increase in summer ferry traffic shows just how sensitive B.C. Ferries users are to fare levels, said Brian Hollingshead, the chair of the Southern Gulf Islands Ferry Advisory Committee.

“We still have a problem with fares,” said Hollingshead. “The traffic's been sinking because the fares have been going up . . . It's still on a downward trend over the five-year window.”

Yesterday B.C. Ferries announced that despite the downturn in tourism, vehicle traffic was up this summer by 3.1 percent and passenger traffic by 0.3 percent over last year.

The Victoria Times Colonist quoted B.C. Ferries president and CEO David Hahn attributing the rise to sunny days: "I think the weather is our No. 1 marketing program.”

“We see their numbers and we agree with them, but we have a different reason for how they got there,” said Hollingshead. There are many factors affecting traffic, he said, but “we believe fares are the dominant one.”

During the summer B.C. Ferries offered a $39 discount fare on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for a car and driver on the major routes between Vancouver Island and the mainland, about 30 percent off the regular price.

As a result, Hollingshead said, traffic surged by as much as 12 percent on discount days, while dropping on the Mondays and Fridays when there was no discount.

Similarly, foot passenger traffic—for which there was no discount—dropped on the major routes, he said.

“It did what most reasonable people would expect it would do,” he said.

The Northern routes, where there were no discounts, also saw drops, carrying one percent fewer vehicles and 6.5 percent fewer passengers.

To maintain the long term health of the ferry service the government should increase its subsidy so B.C. Ferries can reduce fares, Hollingshead said. The government needs to abandon the direction it set in 2003 to move to a user-pay ferry system, he added.

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

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