Truckers angry over ferry fee hike

Mark Rendell Special to The Telegram
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The head of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association says Marine Atlantic is “holding Newfoundland and Labrador hostage.”

Trucks are loaded on a Marine Atlantic ferry in North Sydney, N.S., prior to departing for Newfoundland. — File photo by Julie Collins/Cape Breton Post

Marine Atlantic, the Crown corporation that runs the ferry service between North Sydney, N.S., Port aux Basques and Argentia, increased its fees by three per cent this season. This is the third year prices have jumped, and fees are up 11 per cent since 2012.

When ferry prices increase, says trucking association executive director Jean-Marc Picard, “the consumer in Newfoundland ends up paying.”

The ships, considered part of the federally funded Trans-Canada Highway, provide a vital link between Newfoundland and the mainland, and everything from food to lumber is transported on the ferries.

John Doucet, CEO of the transportation company Day & Ross, understands Picard’s frustration.

“Consumers and our shippers have got a big stake in this, at least as much or bigger than I do,” he says. “We can’t absorb (the increased costs) and I’d expect that our shippers are passing it on to the consumer.”

Darrell Mercer, spokesman for Marine Atlantic, says the three per cent hike was required to meet its increasingly higher operating costs.

Ever-inflating fuel prices are calculated in the fuel surcharge, he says. But everything else, from the shuttle buses used to transport passengers around the terminals to the duvet covers in the sleeper cabins is becoming more expensive.

“We recognize that there is a price point customers are willing to pay. When we need to increase our fees to meet our budget, we don’t do it lightly,” Mercer said.

He says Marine Atlantic is streamlining its processes to make the company more efficient.

Jim Cormier, Atlantic director of the Retail Council of Canada, calls the constant rate increases troubling.

“For smaller retailers, it can make or break them,” he says.

“For larger retailers it may mean they bring in fewer products or shorten the hours they’re open.

“The costs of retail goods are already higher than pretty much anywhere else in Canada except in the north,” he says.

Cormier says companies like Oceanex provide an alternative to Marine Atlantic for shipping some goods. But a lot of products, especially perishable ones, need the twice-daily shipments that only Marine Atlantic, with its federal subsidies, can provide.  

“If you were to get rid of that subsidy there would be no way they could maintain the service. The harsh reality is that if we don’t have federal funding, retail prices are going to go through the roof,” he says.

For the past five years Marine Atlantic has had a long-term funding agreement with the federal government. This is up for review next year and Cormier is concerned that the federal government will reduce funding, further driving up Marine Atlantic’s fees.

“It might not mean much to a high-level bureaucrat sitting in Ottawa, but it would affect prices and jobs everywhere in Newfoundland and Labrador,” he says.  

 

 

Organizations: Marine Atlantic, Trans-Canada Highway, Retail Council of Canada

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, North Sydney, Port aux Basques Canada Ottawa

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  • Bob
    April 02, 2014 - 17:59

    To Pardon the pun Newfoundland and it's governments have missed the boat long ago. When it suited him the federal Liberal member of Parliament have spoken on this issue but it has been a long time now without input from any provincial government . Where is Newfoundland tourism. We all know that if the ferries were privatized there would be such an increase that you would not need ferries because travellers could not afford the cost to come here. One of your comments referred to the wages these workers are paid a fare wage considering they are onboard 24 hours a day and only paid for 12. Many leaving small children at home.

  • Just Sayin'
    April 02, 2014 - 09:23

    Re "For the past five years Marine Atlantic has had a long-term funding agreement with the federal government." Seems like someone (the Harper government?!) is trying to finagle its way out of the federal government's commitment under the Terms of Confederation to maintain the Cabot Strait ferry service. Or is attempting to price the service - and this province - out of existence?

  • Roy
    April 02, 2014 - 08:39

    Its time for our government to wake up, maybe its time for contracting out to supply some of the services on these boats if high wages and benefits are the cost. Marine Atlantic can't keep passing increased expenses to the working poor, who are the ones who pay in the end at the grocery store and everywhere else. How much are the shuttle bus operators, the canteen workers, the people who clean the rooms and make up the beds, the gift shop workers, the restaurant workers etc being paid.. I once asked the person on the information desk about cabin and seating on the new vessels, his answer was I don't know I haven't been on the boat. What was his salary. How many tourists are discouraged from coming to NL with their Trailers and other recreation vehicles. I have spoken to a good many and their response is that its too expensive. Where is our minister of tourism, he is deafening with his silence.

  • Jennifer Sheppard
    April 02, 2014 - 08:10

    I agree !!! The ferry system is considered part of the TCH and should be funded by the Federal Government and I believe is included in our taxes. Trucking Companies will pass extra price hikes onto Newfoundlanders, who already pay premium prices. and also pay their taxes!!

  • Jack
    April 02, 2014 - 07:03

    The only ways Marine Atlantic will stop gouging Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with one ferry rate increase after another are forcing Federal Crown Corporations to seek both Federal and Provincial regulatory approval before implementing such increase and force the Federal Government to increase funding to Marine Atlantic. Because Marine Atlantic, Canada Post, and other Federal Government owned Crown Corporations don't require Provincial or Federal Government regulatory approval to raise user fees, they can raise them anytime they want, and that's the problem. If electricity providers like Nova Scotia Power or Nalcor are required to get regulatory approval for rate increases through Nova Scotia's Utility and Review Board and Newfoundland and Labrador's Public Utilities Board respectfully, perhaps now is the time to do the same for Federal Government regulated monopolies like Marine Atlantic. Otherwise, the unsanctioned rate increases will continue at the expense of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, meaning shame on the Harper Government.

  • Why?
    April 02, 2014 - 04:50

    I don't really understand just WHY we have to pay a ferry fee in the first place. We are supposed to be part of Canada. Everybody else gets a highway and can drive from one province to another without being charged for the connecting highway. The ferry is part of the "Trans" Canada highway. Why is there a charge? Surely we all pay enough taxes to the Provincial and Federal government to maintain roads, so why not a couple of boats, especially when it comes to goods we need to live every day? It is part of a basic transportation system. We ARE hostage, we cannot move from one part of the country to another, without this charge, like other Canadians can. Why can't Jerry Byrne fight for this instead of saucing off Sid Hynes and Pamela Anderson?