A new report released by the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) seriously questions the decisions of the provincial government to decrease ferry service and rapidly increase fares over the past decade.
The study shows mismanagement of the ferry system has cost the B.C. GDP an estimated $2.3 billion and as a result, all levels of government have lost an estimated $610 million in revenue. Fare hikes since 2003 have caused an 11 per cent decrease in ridership, as opposed to an estimated 19 per cent increase had the government kept fare increases to the rate of inflation.
It is troubling that all of could have been averted had the government completed a basic socio-economic impact assessment.
Incredibly the B.C. Ferries system is still world-class and the quality of service still ranks among the highest in the world. But a decade worth of regressive funding decisions and aging infrastructure is eroding the quality of service and viability in many areas of the province.
The report highlighted that a 6.8 per cent decrease in ferries users is a worrisome trend considering other forms of transportation have increased between five to 68 per cent. The report closely linked fare increases to user decline.
These findings validate the concerns raised by leaders in coastal communities -- leaders who opposed the government's cuts. They they demanded that at the very least the government should do a cost-benefit analysis before implementing major service and fee decisions. Their pleas were ignored.
The report is straight to the point -- a decade's worth of backward ferries policy is damaging the provincial economy. Frankly, for a government that is desperate for economic investment and job creation, their decisions are puzzling.
With coastal real estate values taking a beating and few housing starts, their choice to threaten economic stability and stifle growth by cutting off the coast, is equally perplexing.
B.C. Ferries service produces "$1.5 billion annually in total value-added (GDP) for the B.C. economy"; they employ about 8,400 people and they pay an estimated $394 million in taxes to local, provincial and federal governments. The mismanagement of this file has weakened our economy.
The UBCM report found that "for every $1 of tax revenues invested in B.C. Ferries, $8.40 of economic activity was generated. Much of which is in communities that are not coastal or ferry dependent." In other words, investment in B.C. Ferries is good for the economy and not just in coastal communities; it benefits the whole provincial economy.
There is compelling evidence that the current path will not lead us to the goal of an "affordable, efficient and sustainable system" that was articulated by Transportation Minister Todd Stone last November. As a result, the UBCM is calling on government to change course.
They want government to reverse the November 2013 service cuts and fares hikes and they instruct government to "take a timeout" to taking the necessary time to "consider other options and strategies."
They want government to fund and manage the ferries system as an extension of the highway network and request government to work "cooperatively" to find solutions that are beneficial for coastal communities and the provincial economy.
Thanks to the UBCM, we now have a set of facts for Minister Stone to refute. If he is unwilling to move from his government's B.C. Ferries policies, then he should present his case against this evidence, because until then, this is just another example of the Liberal government practicing "decision-based evidence-making."