A look back at 2014 : ferry cuts and fares for seniors

On April 1 2014, a new 50% charge was introduced for BC Seniors who had previously received free ferry fares on Monday to Thursdays. Four weeks later, the provincial government imposed service cuts on most of the minor and northern ferry routes to deliver $14 million net savings by March 2016.

Both measures caused outcry among ferry users and for some island communities the reduction in ferry service had an immediate impact, both on islanders’ day to day lives and on the local economy. Not surprisingly, both measures also led to a further decline in ferry use though, a year later, some of that ferry traffic is starting to return.

Despite many requests, BC Ferries has been reluctant to reveal whether the service reductions have actually achieved the targets set by government, or at what cost to their customers. Now, with the publication of BC Ferries Annual Reports for the year to March 31, 2015, some of the financial outcomes are becoming more evident.

A report compiled by FAC Chair, John Hodgkins attempts to interpret BC Ferries’ published data to determine whether the financial effects of these measures are now clearer. Using best estimates to fill in some of the unknowns, the indications are:

  • The number of ferry trips made by Seniors fell by 13% in Fiscal 2015 compared to Fiscal 2014. The reduction was greatest on the major routes (15%) and averaged 8% on the minor routes. BC Seniors contributed about $8 million in extra fares revenue to BC Ferries, though this will have been offset in part by a potential $2.5 million loss of income from vehicle fares.
  • It is not possible to obtain reliable estimates of the net annual savings achieved from the service reductions using published cost and revenue data alone. There is however sufficient evidence to suggest that the reductions in operating cost achieved on some routes in FY2015 provided a wide (maybe excessively wide) margin to ensure the delivery the net annual savings mandated by government. The net savings achieved on some routes are almost certainly below the targets mandated by government, whereas on other routes the net savings delivered will have substantially exceeded those targets.

These findings were shared with BC Ferries and with government officials ahead of meetings with FAC Chairs in August.   BC Ferries confirms that the savings have been delivered, but is not proposing to release the route-by-route details because of concerns about commercial confidentiality. The Provincial government takes the view that the cuts have been made, the savings achieved and they therefore have no interest in individual route outcomes.

Download the full report here

Time for some SERIOUS joined-up transport planning

Two years ago, Nanaimo Regional Transit asked its Stakeholder Advisory Group how connections with BC Ferries could be improved. The discussion went something like this….

“There’s nothing worse than watching a transit bus depart the ferry terminal just as passengers are walking down the ramp from the ferry. Equally, it’s unrealistic to expect a bus full of passengers from Hammond Bay to wait 15 minutes for a late ferry arriving at Departure Bay. What’s needed is a dedicated shuttle service  for ferry passengers.”


The advisors were impressed how quickly Nanaimo Regional Transit responded with the introduction of Route 25 – promoted by BC Transit as the Ferry Shuttle – and scheduled to meet most daytime ferries at Departure Bay. It was never promoted by BC Ferries though, and most days the service ran with just a handful of passengers. Now and again, it actually connected with Gabriola ferries, making the transfer from Nanaimo Harbour and Departure Bay more reliable.

Then came summer. Like every summer before, BC Ferries changed its ferry schedule in and out of Departure Bay for four months. Most ferries arrive 10, 20 or 30 minutes later during the summer months, but Nanaimo Transit’s Ferry Shuttle never changed. Between June and September, it became virtually a No-Ferry Shuttle.

ferry connectionsSummer 2014 came and went, and 2015 has been no different. Just as the ferries started filling up with walk-on passengers (including more than a few Gabriolans) the shuttle buses from Departure Bay went their own sweet way and ferry passengers were once more left standing at the roadside. Even when a connection seemed possible, passengers could not be certain that the bus would wait if the ferry was delayed. “Allow yourself extra time for unplanned delays” says the new RDN Transit Rider’s Guide. That’s no help if you’ve got another ferry to catch. That’s a cop-out.

Early next month, RDN Transit introduces a new schedule onto its Ferry Shuttle. Gone are the early morning connections with the popular 8.30am ferry from Departure Bay. Gone is the service on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Also gone is the convenience of the Ferry Shuttle calling at Port Place, alongside the Nanaimo Harbour terminal. Maybe Gabriolans were never supposed to use the service in the first place?

Last week, Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs were told that BC Ferries was launching a new working relationship with BC Transit to improve bus and ferry connectivity on the Sunshine Coast. Your FAC Chair reminded BC Ferries that they should also take a long hard look at what’s happening in Nanaimo.

A ferry shuttle service should be just that. A shuttle service between ferries. A service that actually connects with ferries, month in, month out, all year round. If BC Transit can’t meet the bill, maybe someone else should.  Island Link Buses and Tofino Bus can offer guaranteed connections at Departure Bay, so how difficult can it be to run a ferry shuttle across town that actually guarantees to wait for the ferries?

Meanwhile, RDN’s Transit Future Plan acknowledges that the travelling public wants “improved transit connections to BC Ferries terminals, especially Duke Point Ferry Terminal”. In case that’s not clear, what the public really wants are transit services and ferry services that connect with one another. That requires more than a working relationship. It requires a commitment between two government-controlled transport agencies to work together for the benefit of their customers, most of whom are also BC taxpayers.

How difficult can it be?

BC Ferries trials off-peak fare discounts

BC Ferries today launched “50% off the Coast” – a six week Fall offer of discounted passenger fares on selected off-peak sailings on ferry routes across the network, with promises of more to come if this scheme is successful in generating additional traffic.

For Gabriola, this is what’s on offer, between September 8 and October 15, 2015 (except Thanksgiving Monday, October 12):

  • 50% off the regular adult, child or Senior fare on selected sailings  on Monday to Thursday, also on Saturday afternoons.
  • The regular adult fare reduces from $11.25 to $5.65.
  • Children aged 5-11 years and BC Seniors (Monday to Thursday) will pay $2.85 instead of $5.65
  • Experience Card users’ fares will also be discounted to the rates shown above.
  • The reduced fare will apply to tickets purchased on Mondays to Thursdays for sailings leaving Nanaimo between 10.40 am and 3.45pm. (on Wednesdays, the offer starts with the 11.55 am departure because of the Dangerous Cargo sailing at 10.40).
  • On Saturdays, the reduced fare will be available on all sailings leaving Nanaimo from 1.10 pm to end of service.
  • There are no restrictions on travel times from Gabriola to Nanaimo.

The 50% discount will also be available on passenger fares to and from Vancouver on the following sailings:

  • Mondays to Thursdays at 10.40am, 12.50pm and 3.10pm from Departure Bay or Horseshoe Bay**
  • Saturdays at 3.10pm, 5.20pm, 7.30pm and 9.30pm from Departure Bay or Horseshoe Bay
  • Mondays to Thursdays at 12.45pm and 3.15pm from Duke Point or Tsawwassen
  • Saturdays at 3.15pm and 5.45pm from Duke Point or Tsawwassen.

** Note that from October 13-15, the schedule changes to 10.30am, 12,30pm and 3pm from Departure Bay and Horseshoe Bay.

Full details of reductions on other routes, check out http://www.bcferries.com/promotions/50-percent-off-the-coast.html

FAC responds to Ferry Commission on BCF Annual Report

On July 31, 2015, BC Ferries submitted its Fiscal 2015 Annual Report to the British Columbia Ferries Commissioner, within which the results of the 2014 Customer Satisfaction Tracking Survey are, for the first time in recent years, prefaced by a series of responses and planned actions from the ferry corporation.

Several of the route-specific responses related to Route 19 (Nanaimo Harbour to Gabriola Island) and FAC Chair, John Hodgkins, submitted a reaction to the report on behalf of Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee.

The FAC submission to the Ferry Commissioner can be downloaded here.

June ferry traffic hits four-year high

Our warm summer weather was undoubtedly a major factor in the 8% increase in ferry traffic to and from Gabriola this June compared to the same month last year.

According to BC Ferries’ traffic statistics released today, 30,203 vehicles were carried during June – the highest June figure recorded since 2011. The 67,929 passenger journeys was the highest since June 2010.

Although traffic was also up during May, the increase was not enough to make up the traffic lost in 2014 after the service cuts were made.

Monthly traffic statistics can be found on our Route 19 Performance page

Fire Hazard Readiness – How BC Ferries would respond

The following information has been provided by BC Ferries’ Marine Superintendent as guidance on the protocols to be followed in the event of a major fire or incident on Gabriola. 

BC Ferries’ default position is to maintain the normal ferry schedule unless they are instructed by Emergency Services to do otherwise. The normal schedule is already known to all of the emergency services and to most island residents.

BC Ferries’ Operations Centre in Victoria is staffed 24/7 and is their primary point of contact for all emergency authorities. From there, BC Ferries has the ability to mobilise resources to support needs of the emergency services, though it should be recognised that like most organisations, BC Ferries’ resource levels are at their lowest overnight, when crew members may need to be mobilised unexpectedly. In emergency situations, BC Ferries aims to provide an effective response within the resources they have available to them.

In the event of a major incident, BC Ferries would likely receive direction from Emergency Management BC (EMBC) that a local state of emergency was being declared and EMBC would issue direction to BC Ferries to work with local officials on how to prioritize service.  In those circumstances BC Ferries would follow the direction of the emergency authorities, and those authorities would, in turn, be dependent on BC Ferries to advise on what response they are able to provide, and on any risks associated with that response.

The question of whether or not BC Ferries would be able to transport private vehicles in an emergency response situation would be a matter for the emergency authorities to determine. BC Ferries will prioritise life over assets, but recognises that the ability to move vehicles assists the movement of people on both sides. Normal practice is, however, to take foot passengers on first.

BC Ferries points out that the emergency authorities would likely ask them to suspend travel to the island for anyone other than emergency responders in the event of a major incident on the island.  This means that family members already off island may not be able to return until the emergency response is concluded.

This advice will be updated with any further information received from BC Ferries.