03/05/2013 06:04 EST | Updated 05/05/2013 05:12 EDT

No Cuts To BC Ferries Before Election, Says Minister

B.C. Gov

The B.C. government says no cost cutting changes to the BC Ferries service are planned before the upcoming May provincial election.

Transportation Minister Mary Polak released the Coastal Ferries Consultation and Engagement report on Tuesday summarizing public input following eight weeks of meetings last fall.

The consultation process included 40 public meetings in 30 communities that were attended by more than 2,000 people, and produced almost 2,000 written submissions and feedback forms.

In the feedback forms people surveyed said they felt BC Ferries is a part of the highway system and should be funded by the provincial and federal government as well as taxpayers.

They also suggested that if fares were lower, ridership would increase.

But Polak says to keep BC Ferries afloat financially, cuttting $26 million over the next three years is a necessity.

“We know that has to happen, and the communities were clear that they want us to talk to them about the technical conversation," she said.

Polak says cuts won't be coming before the May 14 provincial election, and there will be further consultation before any specific cuts are announced.

The minister says the government has until June to notify BC Ferries about any cost-saving measures, including service reductions, but there's also the ability to extend the deadline.

NDP Critic Maurine Karagianis noted the report doesn't contain firm recommendations about what the future of BC Ferries service should be.

“The threat of service cuts is very serious for communities," she said. "Ridership is down. Fares are up and there is certainly nothing out of this report that has a clear recommendation.”

The public consultation was launched after the independent ferry commissioner Gord Macatee called for a long-term vision for the ferry service.

BC Ferries receives $150 million from the provincial government and $30 million from the federal government to operate each year, plus a $79 million funding bonus from the provincial government spread out over the next four years.

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