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'We have to really think about why people travel': ferry commissioner

Serious consideration must be given to why people travel as fare caps are set for B.C. Ferry Services Inc.'s next performance term, ferry commissioner Martin Crilly said.

“We have to start working on that now to get all the data together and figure out what's going to happen,” Crilly said in an interview yesterday.

Under B.C. Ferries' contract with the province, as set up in 2003, maximum fares and core service levels are negotiated for four-year performance terms. The current one ends in March, 2012.

Crilly said decisions will need to be made on how to balance the need to put more money into rejuvenating the publicly-owned ferry company's aging fleet with the fact traffic levels have been flat, putting a hole in the company's revenues.

“The expectations for traffic level have not been met,” he said, noting traffic is at the same level it was at in 2003. “We were expecting something like one percent a year growth.”

He said he didn't know why traffic hasn't grown, especially as customers report high levels of satisfaction with the service. “We have to really think about why people travel,” he said.

Crilly yesterday announced the price caps would increase on April 1 by 2.68 percent on the three major routes between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland and by 5.68 percent on all other routes, following a formula based on the B.C. consumer price index.

Since 2003 fares have increased by 40 percent on the major routes and by 60 percent on the minor routes.

“In the past decade the relative costs of what is for us part of the highway system have skyrocketed,” Salt Spring Island resident Irene Wright said in an e-mail message. Fare hikes add to the cost of everything brought to the island, she said.

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

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