Written By: Ken Watson
Parks Canada is proposing to move to a new ticket fee structure, starting in 2014, for its historic canals. This will result in a very significant price jump when compared to existing fees. A few scenarios are outlined below and you'll see that the proposed fee increases, upwards of 400%, are rather staggering. The proposed 2014 fee structure for the Rideau Canal can be found near the bottom of this page.
The change in fees will impact both on how boaters will use the canal and on the number of boats using locks. The initial impact will clearly be "do I go through a lock" since each lock is going to cost money (as opposed to a multi-day pass which allows unlimited locking on those days). Less lockages and less boats are inevitable. This is going to have an impact on local business since many depend on boats moving through locks to access their businesses. It will also have a negative impact on heritage with fewer opportunities for land based visitors to see how the 19th century engineering of these locks work.
Parks Canada is accepting comments regarding this new fee structure from January 11 to February 18, 2013. Their contact information can be found at the bottom of this page.
The following table compares what it would cost for a 25 foot power boat under the old system and the new system*:
Scenario Old System Cost New System Cost**
% diff Transit canal (45 locks) Transit Pass $116.25 60 tickets $450/na + 287% Seasonal Boating (100 locks) Season Pass $220 138 tickets $1035/$794 + 370%/
Day Boating (8 locks) One Day Lockage $ 40 14 tickets $105/na + 162% Six Days of Boating (36 locks) Six Day Lockage $126.25 50 tickets $375/na + 197%
* Many scenarios can be envisaged. A canal transit is straightforward since we know the number of locks and required number of tickets. Seasonal boaters will vary, some don't use a large number of locks, others will take the opportunity at least once a summer to do a longer trip, so the 100 locks is just one possible scenario. The same goes for day boating (8 locks would be a typical day trip for me in a power boat). I assumed that with six days of boating, some days might have just a few lockages, other more.
** A bulk discount is available for the on-line purchase of 80 tickets or more. Unfortunately since the Rideau will require 60 tickets to do a transit, a bulk discount is not available for those that want to do a transit of the Rideau Canal (the discount does work for the Trent-Severn which requires 92 tickets to transit).
The following table compares what it would cost for a 16 foot canoe or kayak under the old system and the new system (paddled boats require 1 ticket less per lockstation)*:
Scenario Old System Cost New System Cost**
% diff Transit canal (45 locks) Transit Pass $74.40 38 tickets $182.40/na + 145% Six Days of Paddling (30 locks) Six Day Lockage $80.80 28 tickets $134.40/na + 66%
* With the paddling scenarios, I only used two since paddlers using a day pass or seasonal pass are very rare. More common is the transit, where fully loaded kayaks or canoes do make use of the locks (rather than portaging). The six day scenario would be for someone taking a week's holiday or a group (i.e. Girl Guides or Boy Scouts) paddling trip.
** A paddler is unlikely to be able to take advantage of the bulk (25%) discount since it requires an on-line purchase of 80 tickets or more.
Mooring fees are going up 233%. Formerly mooring was for a 24 hr period costing $0.90 per foot. This has been split into two categories for 2013, overnight mooring at $2.00 per foot and daytime mooring at $1.00 per foot - so that will total $3.00 per foot for a 24 hr stay at a lock (+ power, if available, at an additional cost, going up by 33%). Those that just moor overnight (i.e. transit boaters) will "only" see a 122% increase ($0.9 to $2).
Commercial fees will be double those of recreational craft fees (twice as many tickets are required). This will translate into 200% to 300% price increases.
A Few Observations
Less Boaters: clearly there will be less boaters travelling through locks under the new fee structure, not only because of the shock of the 60% to 400% price increases but also due to the pay as you go ticket method. With each lock costing money, boaters are going to economise by doing less locking.
Cost of Service: Parks Canada keeps referring to the new ticket system as reflecting the cost of service, but the locks are a fixed cost operation when it comes to locking through boats. The staff are there for their allotted hours whether they lock through 1 boat or 100 boats. So the Parks Canada rationale that this new ticket system is to cover the cost of service doesn't wash.
Cost Recovery: Parks Canada is also completely ignoring the heritage aspects of the locks operating by phrasing the fee argument that the locks operate solely for a recreational purpose. Using this rationale they appear to be trying for 100% cost recovery, compared to their previous 20% target. The Rideau is a World Heritage Site in part because it is an operating canal - something the Canadian government should be supporting.
Season Pass Removal: the removal of the season pass option for canals is going to have a large negative impact. The season pass allowed boaters to easily move through the system without thought of additional cost. Of note is that National Parks retains their season pass option under their new fee system. If Parks Canada is using the same rationale for all its fee structures, why keep a Season Pass for National Parks and turf it for Historic Canals?
Discount Issues: The bulk discount rate (25% discount if 80 or more tickets are purchased online) will work for those transiting the Trent-Severn Waterway but not for those doing the Rideau Canal. That certainly doesn't seem fair to the Rideau.
Huge Cost Increase: the last fee increase on the Rideau Canal was in 2008, prices have been frozen since that time (a bad idea on the part of government, but that's another story). If they were to play "catch-up" based on the Consumer Price Index (extrapolated to 2014), we should be seeing an 8 to 10 percent increase in fees rather than increases ranging from 66% to almost 400% (depending on the scenario - see above). In their new ticket system, that would mean a ticket price in the order of $0.09 per foot (still a 5% to 90% increase) rather than their proposed $0.30 per foot.
Paddling Fees: new paddling fees were originally proposed (in 2012) by Parks Canada to be 50% of power boating fees to recognize this more environmentally sensitive way of accessing the waterway. Rather than decreasing paddling fees to encourage more paddling, under the new fee structure Parks is increasing them by 60% to 150%.
Heritage Interpretation: heritage interpretation of the Rideau Canal World Heritage Site is going to suffer since one of the most significant heritage experiences for the land based visitor is to see boats being locked through. To understand and appreciate this marvel of 19th century engineering, you have to see how it operates and this requires boats being locked through.
Dispropotionate Fee Increase: as with the budget cuts, where the Rideau Canal and the Trent-Severn Waterway took much bigger cuts than Parks Canada overall (20% vs 5%), the canals are now taking much larger fee increases. It appears that National Park fees are only going to increase by about 5% (to adjust for the CPI). Cost recovery in National Parks is presently about 30% of the cost of visitor services provided by Parks Canada. To adjust for the CPI, canals should be taking about an 8% increase, not the triple digit increases being proposed.
Ticket System: to quote Parks Canada, the new ticket system, "allows for better flexibility aligning fees with services accessed by boaters while reducing the portion of the cost that is funded by tax dollars." My take is that the prime reason for the new ticket system is to obfuscate the real fee increases being proposed by Parks Canada (up to 400%). I have no issues that user fees are important, and that they should be increased, but Parks Canada should be up front with the costs to users. They should also be up front on how much of the canal costs Parks Canada expects the users to support (20%, 50%, 100%, ?) keeping in mind the heritage aspects of the Rideau as an operating canal (which the Government of Canada should be supporting).
Pricing: Parks Canada must have known when they were developing their new ticket system that it was way overpriced (if they talked to any of their canal staff or stakeholders along the system this would have been made very clear to them). An explanation is that they do know and this initial fee structure is simply a political tactic, floating an unrealitically high number with plans to lower the number so that the public thinks that some sort of compromise has been reached. The fact that they announced on January 15 that they are going to release a revised fee structure on January 18 fits with this theory.
Parks Canada's Proposed Fee Structure
The following tables are from Parks Canada. You can see the original data at: www.pc.gc.ca/eng/agen/tarifs-fees/consultation.aspx.
For purchases made...
Fee, per foot
for a 25ft pleasure boat
Commercial Boaters Fee, per foot
At the canal
$0.30 x 25 = $7.50 per ticket
On-line (-10% discount)
$0.27 x 25 = $6.75 per ticket
On-line, bulk (- 25% discount)*
$0.23 x 25 = $5.75 per ticket
* bulk discount of 25% applies to 80 or more tickets purchased on-line.
The number of tickets required to pass through a lock station will be based on the service provided at that lock station. There are three levels of service for lock stations:
# Tickets Required
Single lock chamber
Transit time of approximately 15 minutes
Single or multi-lock chamber
Transit time of 15 to 30 minutes
Transit time of 45 minutes or more
Lower and Upper Nicholsons
Smith Falls Combined
Smith Falls Detached
Lower and Upper Beveridges
Upper and Lower Brewers
Total (incl. Tay)
Total - Rideau Only
2013 Mooring Fees*
(fee per foot)
(fee per foot)
* A 10% high occupancy surcharge may be added as required.
For more information on Parks Canada's fee proposals, see the links from: www.pc.gc.ca/eng/agen/tarifs-fees/consultation.aspx
To provide comments to Parks Canada on the proposed 2013 fees, please do so:
Parks Canada Agency
2013 Fees Consultation
Brand Experience Branch
25 Eddy Street, 6th floor (25-6-T)
Gatineau, QC K1A 0M5
Be sure to cc your local MP, Minister Peter Kent and the Prime Minister
Their contact info can be found on the communications page.