03/11/2014 11:11 EDT | Updated 05/11/2014 05:59 EDT

BC Ferries cuts, fare hikes draw protesters to Victoria

Several hundred people are expected to turn out in front of the B.C. legislature on Tuesday morning to protest coming service cuts and rate hikes at BC Ferries.

Organizers say the rally is a chance for coastal residents to voice their concerns directly to government about changes coming in April.

Earlier this year the government announced it was cutting service on its minor and northern routes to save $19 million and stave off higher fare increases. But fares are still going up four per cent on April 1.

A further $4.9 million in service reductions to major routes — including Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, Tsawwassen to Duke Point, and Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay — are expected to be announced by the end of March.

Loyalty program questioned

Critics are also questioning why the B.C. government-owned corporation spent $10,000 on a marketing survey to determine what customers thought of its plans for a loyalty or points program.

BC Ferries insists no final decisions have been made on the rewards plan, but it could replace the existing Experience Card that gives discounts to regular travellers on the smaller routes.

Sunshine Coast NDP MLA Nick Simons questions why a company with a monopoly would need to run a loyalty program.

"We don't need more gimmicks. We don't need some sort of loyalty card to a service that we have no choice but to be loyal to. What we want is fair fares and good service."

BC Ferries is also moving ahead with a reduction to the seniors' discount. Currently, people 65 and older walk on for free. Starting April 1, however, they will be required to pay a half-price passenger fare Monday to Thursday on major and minor routes. They will continue to pay full-price for their vehicles.

The rally is expected to kick off at the legislature at 11:30 a.m. PT.