Minister ‘surprised and disappointed’ by BC Ferries plan to remove fuel rebates

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Photo By DARREN STONE, Times Colonist

B.C. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena says she is “extremely disappointed” with a plan by BC Ferries to remove fuel rebates, less than two months after the provincial government put a fare reduction strategy in place.

In a letter to BC Ferries board chairman Donald Hayes, Trevena writes that she was “surprised and disappointed” to learn last week that the ferry service was planning to announce the removal of fuel rebates of 2.9 per cent on major and minor rates and 1.9 per cent on Northern routes.

But Mark Collins, the president and CEO of BC Ferries, says he doesn’t know why the change would be a surprise because it has been negotiating with the Transportation Ministry about the future of the rebate system for the last six months.

The rebate and surcharge system has been in place for 13 years, and Collins says the cost has been added or subtracted from fares 18 times since then.

Trevena says the government is willing to negotiate with BC Ferries to avoid the increase and she is disappointed that despite the request, the company has decided to move forward with fare hikes.

Collins says up until this point the ministry was only asking for a delay, but if the government wants to considering more funding then BC Ferries will give the government a few weeks to see what it can come up with.

“We’re not proposing a surcharge, we’re considering just removing the rebates because the price of fuel has risen,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “We are no different than somebody filling up their car.”

Trevena says the ministry worked very closely with BC Ferries for several months to negotiate an agreement that enabled the government to commit to fare reduction strategies, which took effect April 1.

Those include fare freezes on three major routes, reduced fares on other routes by 15 per cent, and the return of a 100 per cent discount on seniors’ passenger fares Monday through Thursday.

Collins says they BC Ferries tries to move more slowly on volatile fuel prices.

“The balance swings certainly in the millions of dollars, plus or minus,” he said. “It’s a very routine thing.”

He says the increase would amount to about 50 cents for passengers and a $1.70 for vehicles on major routes and would come to about 30 cents for a passenger and another 60 cents for a vehicle on a small route.