Provincial government commits $500M to B.C. Ferries to lower fare increases

Two of B.C. Ferries new hybrid vessels travel between Campbell River and Quadra Island. (Hazel Trego - image credit)
Two of B.C. Ferries new hybrid vessels travel between Campbell River and Quadra Island. (Hazel Trego - image credit)

The B.C. government has announced $500 million in new funding to B.C. Ferries to prevent rising fuel prices and inflation from spilling over into fare increases over the next four years.

Premier David Eby said the province decided to step in after recent submissions to the B.C. Ferries Commissioner predicted it would have to raise prices by more than 10 per cent in each of the next four years, due to the impacts of global inflation over the past 18 months.

The province hopes the new funding will keep the annual increase in ferry tickets below three per cent, though the final cost will be determined by the corporation's commissioner.

"Every day people use B.C. Ferries to get to work, to visit family and friends," said Eby.

"We all depend on predictable and affordable service."

Eby said the province's "marine highway system" is critical to B.C. transportation and a big jump in fares would put too much pressure on families and small businesses.

He added that it would also increase delivery costs for B.C. contractors and businesses, which would be passed down the line to consumers.

The funding announcement came a day after Eby announced another round of the B.C. Affordability Credit that he said would also help offset inflation costs as he marked 100 days at the province's helm.

In a statement, B.C. Ferries interim president Jill Sharland said the corporation was thankful for the government's partnership and understanding of the complexity of running one of the world's largest ferry systems.

"This significant funding from the province supports necessary service enhancements and infrastructure investments while keeping fares affordable for the travelling public and our commercial customers," she said.

Mike McArthur/CBC
Mike McArthur/CBC

Slow shift to electrification

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming, speaking Esquimalt on Vancouver Island, highlighted that three quarters of B.C.'s population lives along the coast and relies on ferries for daily travel, goods and services and also to get to medical appointments.

Fleming said some of the new money going to the ferry corporation will be used to retrofit its fleet.

"By protecting the affordability of fares and supporting electrification of B.C. Ferries, we will lower the company's fuel costs over time and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the province," he said, "protecting the interests of ferry-dependent communities and all ferry users in British Columbia."

Fleming said there are currently six hybrid ships on the water but they're not yet using battery service for the majority of their operations. He said B.C. Ferries had to divert funds away from electrification during the pandemic, but the ferry corporation and the province will be working together to build shore power charging infrastructure to accelerate the transition.

"There are B.C. clean energy jobs attached to the electrification of our ferry fleet," Fleming added, explaining that the battery systems used in the hybrid vessels were developed in Richmond, B.C.

The B.C. Ferries commissioner is set to determine a preliminary increase in annual fares by March 31, with the final price hike for the next four years to be published by Sept. 30.