The Coastal Inspiration pulls into BC Ferries' Tsawwassen terminal.

Province floats gas tax shift to ferries

Transportation Minister Todd Stone's idea for BC Ferries funding called 'red herring'

Transportation Minister Todd Stone is proposing coastal communities turn over federal gas tax transfers they receive to shore up ferry service and help keep a lid on fares.

The idea is getting a cool reception from mayors and councillors in ferry-dependent areas because it would mean the sacrifice of the federal gasoline tax money they now use to fund local infrastructure.

But Stone argued it would not be unlike the decision of Metro Vancouver cities to dedicate all of their federal gas tax transfers to TransLink for public transit.

“Let’s think outside the box,” Stone said Thursday outside the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.

“(Let’s) have a discussion around gas tax as a potential source of revenue for BC Ferries service, which would have the effect of applying downward pressure on fares.”

Stone said coastal communities get nearly $30 million a year in gas tax transfers, an amount that represents about a sixth of the $180 million a year the province spends to subsidize BC Ferries operations.

He suggested the redeployment of “some if not all” of that $30 million would help meet local demands for basic levels of ferry service.

The proposal would need the support of local communities or else it’s dead in the water, and even then it’s unclear how it might work.

Gas tax transfers are subject to federal rules that allow the money to go only to eligible local capital projects, not to operating expenses or to provincial services.

B.C. cities are lobbying Ottawa to loosen the restrictions on how the money can be spent and Premier Christy Clark said Friday the federal government should “step up” and enable gas taxes as a potential source for the ferry system.

Campbell River Coun. Claire Moglove, co-chair of a UBCM committee on ferry issues, said she doubts Vancouver Island cities would agree to give up gas tax money they rely on for costly local projects such as water systems and sewage treatment plants.

“This gas tax issue is a bit of a red herring,” she said. “This is a provincial transportation system that requires proper funding from the province.”

Moglove said Stone’s reference to the use of the gas tax for transit in Metro Vancouver is “comparing apples and oranges” because taxpayers in all other regions of B.C. pay hospital capital taxes that do not apply in Metro Vancouver, leaving more local taxation room there to fund TransLink.

She said the ferry system has 92 per cent operating cost recovery from fares.

The remaining eight per cent that’s funded by the province – $180 million – is about one third of the $550-million operating budget for the highways system, which Moglove said is generally untolled with no expectation of cost recovery.

“Why do ferry users have to pay 92 per cent of the operating cost of BC Ferries?” she demanded. “Why is it different for the coastal highway – ferries – as opposed to highways in the North, the Okanagan or the Kootenays?”

Stone has been firm that the province won’t raise taxes to fund BC Ferries and that relief from high fares must come through efficiencies.

The transportation minister has been sparring with Island mayors and councillors since the Sept. 10 release of a UBCM study that concluded rapidly rising ferry fares have driven down ridership and damaged the provincial economy.

Just Posted

Port Harvey shipyard greenlit

Bylaw 895 has been adopted by RDMW

Port McNeill Volunteer Fire Department appoints deputy chief

Port McNeill Fire Chief Dean Tait has appointed 10+ year firefighter veteran… Continue reading

Port McNeill in Focus: Childcare Availability Crisis a Good News/Bad News Story

On average, childcare across the country is unavailable, unaffordable, and the quality varies.

Notice of change of operator for Mount Waddington transit services

The Regional District of Mount Waddington (RDMW) and BC Transit have received… Continue reading

Is Steve Nash Vancouver Island’s best athlete of all-time?

As Captain Canada gets ready to enter basketball’s Hall of Fame it’s time to debate his legacy

VIDEO: After the floods, comes the cleanup as Grand Forks rebuilds

Business owners in downtown wonder how long it will take for things to go back to normal

Woman’s death near Tofino prompts warning about ‘unpredictable’ ocean

Ann Wittenberg was visiting Tofino for her daughter Victoria Emon’s wedding

B.C. man facing deportation says terror accusation left him traumatized

Othman Hamdan was acquitted of terrorism-related charges by a B.C. Supreme Court judge in September

Will Taylor Swift’s high concert ticket prices stop scalpers?

Move by artist comes as B.C. looks to how to regulate scalpers and bots reselling concert tickets

36 fires sparked May long weekend, most due to lightning: BC Wildfire

As warmer weather nears, chief fire officer Kevin Skrepnek says too soon to forecast summer

Ariana Grande sends message of hope on anniversary of Manchester bombing

Prince William joins survivors and emergency workers for remembrance service

B.C. flood risk switches from snowmelt to rainfall: River Forecast Centre

Kootenays and Fraser River remain serious concerns

Pipeline more important than premiers meeting: Notley

“Canada has to work for all Canadians, that’s why we’re fighting for the pipeline”

Canadian government spending tens of millions on Facebook ads

From January 2016 to March 2018, feds spent more than $24.4 million on Facebook and Instagram ads

Most Read