MLA Nicholas Simons is probably correct when he says the long-awaited fixed link study will not bring definitive closure to the debate. But in reality, it should – because no government would seriously touch a fixed link to the Sunshine Coast with a proverbial 10-foot pole. Not in this life, anyway.
Four options were studied in depth. None of them perform strongly “from a financial feasibility perspective.” Three of them, ranging in estimated cost from a minimum of $2 billion to $5 billion, are non-starters – not just because of the cost but also because the two road-based scenarios come with negative net user benefits due to added travel time, vehicle operating costs and roadway collisions.
The best of the bad lot, the Anvil Island bridges scenario, would cost between $3 billion and $3.4 billion to build, operate and maintain. And that’s based on a toll rate equivalent to existing ferry fares. Calculated over a 25-year lifespan, subtracting such nebulous items as salvage value, the study pegs the cost at $2.7 billion. That’s still almost four times higher than the $722 million needed to keep the Route 3 ferry service running during that time, including new boats and all the bells and whistles. Stacked up against those costs, the study concludes, user benefits for the Anvil Island route would be “relatively small.”
So the numbers don’t work and don’t even come close to working.
The takeaway is that the Sunshine Coast is a ferry-dependent community and BC Ferries is our marine highway. There’s no getting away from it. The reasonable demand that the ferry service be funded and recognized as part of the transportation system coalesced about four years ago into a powerful grassroots campaign that briefly united B.C.’s coastal communities around a common cause. That’s why the former Liberal government tried to change the channel by commissioning fixed link studies, first for Gabriola Island and then for the Sunshine Coast, the two hotbeds of marine highway activism. They knew the outcome going in, but they wanted to shut us up.
Now we’re being told to wait five years – maybe, hopefully – to have acceptable service; to start paying the same rates for parking as other routes, even though our service is substandard; to hope and pray the NDP keep their election promise to cut fares by 15 per cent, while the company keeps squeezing passengers for reservation fees that represent a much higher net fare increase; and to believe that Ottawa is sincerely looking at subsidizing our ferries to the same degree that it has for Atlantic Canada since Confederation, though it doesn’t ever get around to doing it.
The fixed link ploy ended not with a bang but a predictable whimper. But we don’t have to. Let’s not.
John Gleeson is the editor of the Coast Reporter in Sechelt.