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Let Seniors Have Discounted Rides on Ferries, Says Watts

Surrey BC Liberal leadership contender’s announcement puts her in line with NDP government’s policies.

By Andrew MacLeod 21 Nov 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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BC Liberal leadership candidate Dianne Watts: ‘Ultimately, we need to make this vital connector more affordable for B.C. families and in particular those on Vancouver Island.’

In her campaign to lead the BC Liberal Party, Dianne Watts is taking aim at a BC Ferries policy that was implemented by two of her opponents.

“I’ve heard loud and clear that seniors are extremely upset over losing their seniors’ discount on BC Ferries,” Watts said in a press release following a leadership debate in Nanaimo Sunday.

“We need to address this and ensure that the seniors’ discount applies 365 days a year on all sailings,” said Watts, a former mayor of Surrey who resigned as a federal Conservative member of parliament to seek the BC Liberal leadership.

In 2013, the BC Liberal government announced an end to the previous practice of providing free passenger fares for seniors over the age of 65 on the minor and major routes on Mondays through Thursdays.

The transportation minister at the time, Todd Stone, announced seniors would begin paying half the regular fare. Stone is a candidate to replace Christy Clark as party leader as well. The 2013 announcement included cuts to ferry service levels and a scheme to put slot machines on the vessels that was later abandoned.

A third Liberal leadership candidate, Mike de Jong, was the finance minister at the time of the cuts, which were presented as a way to save BC Ferries about $20 million a year and slow the rapid growth in fares.

Neither Stone nor de Jong was in the Legislature on Monday and their campaign teams didn’t respond to interview requests.

Watts’ announcement also said she believes BC Ferries is an extension of the highway system. “Ultimately, we need to make this vital connector more affordable for B.C. families and in particular those on Vancouver Island.”

It was unclear from Watts’ announcement whether she is advocating extending the current 50 per cent discount for seniors throughout the week or making travel for seniors free. Messages to her campaign received no response. 

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said, “It’s great to see we have a Liberal who sees BC Ferries as part of the marine highway system as we do.”

The NDP government will make passenger fares for seniors free four days a week, restoring the previous discount, she said. “Seniors were very happy with that in the past, and that’s what we’re going to be reintroducing.”

The government will also reduce fares on the minor routes and freeze them on the major routes while it reviews BC Ferries’ operations. “I think that that, along with the seniors rate, will be a huge relief, making using BC Ferries a lot more affordable for families in B.C.,” Trevena said.

Update, Nov. 23, 2017: A spokesperson for Watts said her proposal is to make passenger fares half price for seniors on all routes every day.  [Tyee]

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