11/06/2014 01:42 EST | Updated 01/06/2015 05:59 EST

BC Ferries Fare Hikes May Go Ahead If Nanaimo-Horseshoe Bay Changes Can't, Warns CEO

BC Ferries CEO Mike Corrigan says ferry fares may have to go up now that the province has said no to possible changes to the service between Nanaimo and West Vancouver.

Corrigan's words come only days after the public learned BC Ferries was floating the idea of closing one of two mid-Island terminals, either Departure Bay or Duke Point, and potentially cancelling altogether the popular Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay route.

But less than 24 hours after that proposal became public, B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone said he spoke with Island MLAs and and decided that neither of those proposals would go ahead.

BC Ferries CEO Mike Corrigan warned that Stone's decision has taken away one of the company's primary means of controlling costs, and that major fare hikes could result.

"To be perfectly clear, with government not wanting to consider the major route strategy, I mean that represents 80 per cent of our costs," he told The Canadian Press Wednesday.

"Without being able to look and explore the major routes, we're looking at having difficulty now keeping fares at inflationary increases. That's going to be basically impossible now," Corrigan said.

Fares vs. subsidies 

Corrigan would not speak on camera with CBC News Thursday, but did say that another way to balance the books in the coming years is for the B.C. government to boost its taxpayer subsidy to BC Ferries.

The B.C. Ferry Commission says taxpayers spend just over $100 million a year on BC Ferries service.

But B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong said there is very little extra provincial cash with which to boost the subsidy.

"We're in the budgeting process and we'll continue to work through that," he told CBC News. "That's a pledge, as you might expect, to continue to work cooperatively with BC Ferries to ensure we find the right balance."

- EARLIER | No more subsidies for BC Ferries, says province

The opposition isn't pledging more money either.

"It's the responsibility of the minister of transportation to solve the issues that are emerging," said B.C. NDP leader John Horgen.

"They have been in power for 14 years. The consequences that Mr. Stone is facing today are a result of those who came before him."

BC Ferries has estimated it will have to spend $1.1 billion over the next 15 years to replace six major vessels and $200 million to upgrade the Horseshoe Bay terminal.

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