Editorial: Rough seas ahead for BC Ferries

Poor weather keeps people at home and off ferries, resulting in financial slump

B.C. Views

BC Ferries has begun its summer schedule, ramping up sailings for the vacation season that is crucial to the fleet’s bottom line.

It’s been rough sailing for BC Ferries so far this year. The corporation released its financial results in June, reporting a net loss of $16.5 million, compared to net earnings of $3.8 million the previous year. Last year’s earnings were boosted by the sale of the former corporate headquarters for $9.3 million, preventing a loss there as well.

In the fiscal year that ended March 31, vehicle traffic was down 3.5 per cent and walk-on passengers were down 2.8 per cent. As a result, BC Ferries is forecasting a “small loss” for this year as well.

The spring “Coast Saver” sale has just ended. That’s a 37-per-cent discount offered Fridays through Mondays, May 25 to June 25 on the major runs from the mainland to Victoria and Nanaimo. The discounts allowed a foot passenger to cross for $9.95 and a car and driver for $39.95.

I asked BC Ferries CEO Mike Corrigan last week how the sale went. He didn’t have final figures yet, but he allowed that the boost in traffic was “marginal.”

It’s the second year that the spring sale has been offered over weekends, when people are more likely to travel. But instead of generating additional trips, Corrigan said the main effect has been to shift traffic from midweek to weekends.

One of the primary reasons for this spring’s poor performance is the lousy weather that kept people at home. Gasoline at $1.40 a litre is another big one. Hotels and other tourism services tell the same story.

Here’s another problem: student traffic on the ferries was down by a third this spring, because teachers cancelled field trips as part of their lengthy work-to-rule campaign.

The simplistic political debate about ferry service starts and ends with rising fares, with occasional fits of temper over executive salaries, and ignores the other factors. Just cut the fares and increase the taxpayer subsidy, say the NDP and their local echo chambers.

Of course, taxpayers are already pitching in an extra $80 million this year, bringing the subsidy to the ferries close to $200 million. That’s how Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom sweetened the pot as he unveiled new powers for B.C. Ferry Commissioner Gord Macatee to set service levels as well as regulate fares.

Macatee’s task now is to travel the coast and endure the demands of island dwellers who want the rest of us to subsidize their splendid isolation. The proposition for them will boil down to this: You can pay more or you can have fewer sailings. And where the boat is a third full, you will have fewer sailings.

This consultation period is an opportunity to ask some hard questions. For instance, does Saltspring Island really need three ferry terminals? And why is there no passenger-only service?

Macatee’s term as commissioner started with a detailed review last year that pointed to some other ways to save serious money. But CEO Corrigan says there are no quick fixes.

FortisBC has offered an $11 million incentive for conversion of marine vessels to natural gas, which would give the fleet significant relief from spiraling fuel costs. But a ferry conversion would take six months or more, and another vessel would be needed in the meantime.

Another promising suggestion is overhauling the ferry reservation service, making reservations free and charging extra for those who just show up. Corrigan says a computer reservation overhaul is underway, but it will take three years.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

tfletcher@blackpress.ca

 

Just Posted

‘More animals could have a chance:’ Victoria Humane Society in desperate need of a home

Animal rescue currently has 163 animals in foster and volunteer homes

Free-B Film Festival celebrates 20th anniversary

Head to Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park to see some family favourites on the big screen

Central Saanich accused of not following Climate Emergency declaration with urgent action

Motion to research climate response options and costs rejected then rescheduled in tense meeting

Join North Saanich invasives removal and experience three key benefits

Friends of North Saanich Parks says July 27 clear-up will be rewarding as well as green

Light up August with a lantern building workshop in Sidney

ArtSea workshops in preparation for Aug. 24 Salish Sea Lantern Festival

Rich the Vegan scoots across Canada for the animals

Rich Adams is riding his push scooter across Canada to bring awareness to the dog meat trade in Asia

A year later, ceremony commemorates victims of the Danforth shooting

It’s the one-year anniversary of when a man opened fire along the bustling street before shooting and killing himself

Japanese Canadians call on B.C. to go beyond mere apology for historic racism

The federal government apologized in 1988 for its racism against ‘enemy aliens’

B.C. VIEWS: NDP pushes ahead with Crown forest redistribution

This isn’t the time for a radical Indigenous rights agenda

Two dead in two-vehicle crash between Revelstoke and Golden

RCMP are investigating the cause of the crash

Ottawa fights planned class action against RCMP for bullying, intimidation

The current case is more general, applying to employees, including men, who worked for the RCMP

Alberta judge denies B.C.’s bid to block ‘Turn Off the Taps’ bill

He said the proper venue for the disagreement is Federal Court

Most Read