BC Ferries to conduct a full ‘soup to nuts’ review

Lindsay Kines - Times Colonist

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The province plans to launch a “soup to nuts” review of B.C. Ferries next month that will examine all aspects of the service — except whether it should be brought back inside government.

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said in an interview that the review will scrutinize everything from B.C. Ferries’ business practices to its policies, procedures and spending decisions.

“What we want to do is look at the way B.C. Ferries operates to make sure it is operating for the best interests of people who live and work on the coast,” she said.

“I’m calling it the ‘soup to nuts review’ and I really do hope that it is going to be extensive and does answer a lot of questions that people have about what has been happening at B.C. Ferries in these last number of years.”

The one thing the study will not do, however, is consider whether B.C. Ferries should return to its former status as a Crown corporation or get wrapped into the Transportation Ministry.

Trevena said the NDP promised during the last election campaign to review B.C. Ferries, but made no commitment to change its governance structure — something the party had done in previous campaigns.

The former Liberal government transformed B.C. Ferries in 2003 from a Crown corporation to a quasi-private company that receives an annual subsidy from the province.

The company operates the service, while an independent B.C. Ferries Commissioner regulates fares by setting a price cap on the average level of fares.

Trevena acknowledged that many people have strong feelings on the issue.

In 2015, more than 20,000 people signed a petition urging the province to make B.C. Ferries part of the Transportation Ministry as a way to cut costs and reduce fares. “These are hard-felt commitments by people, but in the end what we need is a ferry system that really is responsive for people, is working in the public interest,” she said.

The ferries review is expected to cost about $250,000 including fees for technical experts, research and analysis, the government said. Blair Redlin, a former deputy minister of transportation, will oversee the work.

A final report is due by the end of June.

Despite the ongoing review, Trevena said the government will follow through on its campaign promise to cut fares by 15 per cent on minor routes and freeze them on major ones this spring.

The party has also pledged to restore the full seniors discount for mid-week travel. Seniors have been paying half the adult fare since the full discount was eliminated by the former Liberal government in 2014.

“The rate freezes and the cuts are going ahead,” she said. “They are going ahead as planned in April next year.”

The NDP platform estimated the cost of the fare cuts and freezes at $20 million annually, a figure dismissed as too low by former Liberal finance minister Mike de Jong.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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