Monday, October 6, 2014

Two-tiered transportation in BC and the South Coast

A few weeks ago, local government officials throughout the province attended the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention. In preparation for the convention, the UBCM commissions and releases a policy paper on an important topic that impacts local governments in the province.

This year, the UBCM released a policy paper on BC Ferries. The report received a fair bit of media attention as it found a strong link between increased fares and reduced ridership. It also found that increased fares were having a negative impact on the GDP of coast communities; there was $2.3 billion in lost GDP between 2003 and 2013. The report noted that “for every $1 of tax revenue invested in BC Ferries, $8.40 of economic activity was generated”. That wealth was spread throughout the province.

Of course, the provincial government promptly rejected the report's findings. If you want to read more, you can download the full report.

BC Ferries is a form of public transit, it is accounted as such within the budget of the Ministry of Transportation. One of the interesting tables in the UBCM policy paper is on fare box recovery. This is the ratio between taxpayer investment in a service, and the service’s direct user fees.

Farebox Recovery Rates of Global Ferry Operators and Other Transit Providers. Source: Boatswains to The Bollards: A Socioeconomic Impact Analysis of BB Ferries.

It is interesting to note that BC Ferries is 92% directly funded by its users, compared to 66% for Washington State Ferries.

It is also interesting to note that TransLink is 51% directly funded by its users. Much like BC Ferries, direct user funding has been steadily climbing; TransLink was 44.7% funded directly by its users is in 2009.

At the same time BC Transit —which provides transit service to the rest of the province— was 33% directly funded by its users.

The South Coast is the only place where there is a direct user fee for roads; you have to pay a toll to use the Port Mann Bridge and the Golden Ears Bridge.

User’s fees aren't bad, but I find it interesting that people in the South Coast pay more direct users fee to use the transportation system than people in the rest of the province. It seems that we have a two-tiered transportation system in BC. If you live in the South Coast, the provincial government expects you to pay more out-of-pocket to use transportation while the rest of the province get a larger subsidy to use the transportation network.

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