$359 million price tag is too high. Now please, fix the ferries system

Editorial

Tuesday, February 2 2016

Well, at least we finally have a number to hang from the bridge argument.

For years, one of the key bridge facts missing was how much would it cost. Now we have that answer. We needed to know, for once and for all, that whatever the politics might say about a bridge, this is the price tag to get one.

Even taking the most conservative figure given from the feasibility study, $359 million for a bridge is too high a cost.

As noted previously in this paper, the cost of all three of the new Salish-class mid-sized ferries will be $165 million. That’s for all three ships together.

Now, as some have pointed out, comparing the cost of a bridge which might have had a lifespan of 100 years to the cost of running the ferry for 24 years could be a bit unfair.

Going by the revenue numbers included in the study, the projected 24-year revenue for the Gabriola-Nanaimo route was $98.1 million. With no inflation applied, that works out to $400 million over a 100-year period starting in 2020.

So islanders will spend enough - assuming current usage and fares - over the next 100 years to have paid for a $350 million bridge, plus the bridge maintenance.

Of course - spending that kind of provincial money would require a government with a longer view than is currently politically viable. And at the end of the day, this issue has come down to the fact that the Ministry is not willing to pump millions of dollars into infrastructure for the 4,045 residents of Gabriola, or our visitors.

The silver lining is that until 2020 the Ferries can’t raise fares more than 1.9%. 2020 is only four years away.

Between now and then, all ferries users should be concerned with what the next steps be as BC Ferries continues to look for ways to cut costs. Government has throttled fare increases and will not provide more operational funding.

When revenue is throttled, expenses (like sailings) are the often seen as the only way to control the budget.

The bridge argument is far from over - this study will give islanders plenty to talk about for years to come. The focus though needs to be on working with our FAC members and putting pressure on the government to end the BC Ferries privatization experiment.