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Boat rates jump thanks to higher fuel costs

ST. JOHN'S Nfld. - Marine Atlantic, the Crown corporation that sails ferries to and from Newfoundland, has added an 8.5 per cent surcharge, which came into force Feb. 1According to the operator's spok...


ROUGH SAILING: Ferry added surcharge after a jump in diesel prices.
ROUGH SAILING: Ferry added surcharge after a jump in diesel prices.

ST. JOHN’S Nfld. – Marine Atlantic, the Crown corporation that sails ferries to and from Newfoundland, has added an 8.5 per cent surcharge, which came into force Feb. 1

According to the operator’s spokesman Jim Wellman, the surcharge was added to help make up for a $7-million increase in the company’s diesel bill in 2000, from $13 million to $20 million.

The ferry service calculates its fares based on vehicle length, so for tractor-trailers of up to 60 feet, the rate from North Sydney, N.S. to Port aux Basques, Nfld. jumped to $275 from $253.

To maximize space, Marine Atlantic also transports “dropped” trailers (“We jockey them on the ships,” says Wellman), with trucking companies on the Rock picking them up at the destination.

For trailers or straight trucks that are 31 ft. to 40 ft., the rate is $174, up from $160; for 41 ft. to 50 ft., the rate is $229, up from $211; for 61 ft. to 70 ft., the rate is $326, up from $300.

But as Wellman points out, even with the boosting of its rates, Marine Atlantic revenues will still be about six per cent short.

So then what is the operating authority doing to help make up the shortfall?

“One thing we’re doing is cutback, cutback, cutback, right across the board.” Wellman explains. That, and using cheaper, blended fuel, he adds.

Blended fuel can freeze much faster, mind you, so the company is building a third, heated storage unit at its tank farm in Port aux Basques.

As for transport-truck drivers, Marine Atlantic has kept the fares for its “trucker berths,” or bunks, unchanged at $22.50.

Along with holding the line on its accommodations, the ferry service is also maintaining its priority status on night passage for truck drivers, an initiative begun in 2000 after Captain Sid Hynes became chairman and chief executive officer.

“Before, you would come up and, unless you were reserved, you wouldn’t (necessarily) get on,” says Wellmen. “So there is a certain allotment, for at least two trips per day, that are for truckers.”

Marine Atlantic also sails a much longer route from North Sydney to Argentia, which docks considerably closer to the capital region.

However, almost no trucking traffic makes that voyage, which – unlike the sailing to Port aux Basques – only operates seasonally.

In summer, the Port aux Basques run sees three crossings daily, cutting back to two a day in the stormy winter months. n


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