Slower fares increase does not mean prices won’t still skyrocket

Editorial

Wednesday, March 25 2015

It’s doubtful any regular user of the BC Ferries system thinks the price of a ferry trip is only going to increase 1.9% per year starting in 2016.

Fares may only increase by 1.9%  - but the price paid - either through fuel surcharges or other hidden fees - may still continue to climb at a higher rate.

As current Commissioner Gord MacAtee pointed out this past week, if BC Ferries deems it necessary to increase revenue because the 1.9% doesn’t quite cover the costs, it has ways of doing so. Either through a formal fare increase approved by the Commissioner, or through surcharges such as the fuel surcharge.

When one looks closer at changes being planned for BC Ferries though, the picture is not optimistic.

Those plans being the implemtation of the ‘Fare Flexibility and Digital Experience Initiative and the Automated Customer Experience Program,’ which according to the Ferry corporation, “are e-commerce and information technology upgrades that will drive significant change in how BC Ferries does business and serves its customers over the next decade.”

If the programs are approved by the BC Ferries Commissioner, they will be implemented in phases starting in 2017. At the helm of the new initiatives is former BCF Chief Financial Officer Rob Clarke. 

Clarke is the one who (literally for years) insisted there was no relationship between rising ferry fares and decreasing ridership. At every Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee meeting between 2008 and early 2012 FAC members pushed Clarke on the issue of rising fares and decreasing ridership. Only to be told by Clarke there were other factors (price of fuel at the pump, high populations of people over 55) to blame.

Since the Ferry Commissioner report in 2012, both BC Ferries and Transportation Minister Todd Stone have agreed there is a connection between ferry fares and ridership.

It is hard to take it on faith that even if fare increases are slowing, we won’t see the final ticket prices continue to grow at the same rate as in the past. Especially with the same BC Ferries building the new program which will guide what we pay for and how we pay it. 

Meet the new boss...

The new system is being compared to the system the airlines use to book trips. As anyone knows, the advertised fare does not always reflect the price paid on the credit card.