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.

Greyhound plans to cut all services north of Nanaimo; Tofino Bus looks set to take over

In the latest move toward returning its Canadian operations to profitability, Greyhound Canada has announced its intention to withdraw from its Nanaimo-Campbell River and Campbell River-Port Hardy routes, but has told its regulators, the Passenger Transportation Branch of the BC government, that “it is very likely another inter-city bus operator will apply to take over the routes”.

Simultaneously, Tofino Bus Services have lodged an application to run an identical service on both routes and anticipates a start date of August 1. Tofino Bus already has an inter-line partnership with Greyhound on its Nanaimo-Victoria and Nanaimo-Tofino routes.

Details of the planned Tofino Bus services can be found here.

BC Ferries releases year-end results

BC Ferries this week published its Year-End Results for Fiscal 2015, revealing the stronger financial performance for the year that underscores the Ferry Commissioner’s decision to hold future fare increases to 1.9% each year in the next performance term.

The corporation’s 5.1% increase in revenue is largely attributed to increasing vehicle and passenger traffic, especially in the final quarter of the year, when good weather boosted ferry traffic significantly compared to the dismal results in the spring of 2014.  The 2014 fuel surcharge raised $13 million, but there’s no reference to how much of the extra revenue comes from the new 50% fare now paid by seniors.

Cost inflation was held at just 1.1% overall, though the underlying trend of a 5% increase in maintenance and administration confirms that the bulk of the cost savings have been achieved through lower operating expenses (fuel and labour) which fell this year by 1% – the product, no doubt, of falling fuel prices and service cuts to the minor routes.

It may be the good news that shareholders and government wanted to hear, but it’s too bad that the nine-page year end report fails to even acknowledge the April 2014 service cuts as a “significant event” for the corporation. It was certainly a significant event for Gabriola.

More reaction on the Opinion page

Customer satisfaction plummets following service cuts

Each year, BC Ferries is required to commission an independent survey of customer satisfaction on a sample of 8 ferry routes, including Route 19 to and from Gabriola.  The public report, which will form part of the corporation’s annual report to the BC Ferry Commissioner, was released this week and is published in full on the BC Ferries website.

The selection of Route 19 as one of four minor routes surveyed provides an eye-opening insight to the Ferry Commissioner and government of just how seriously the April 2014 service cuts have impacted on ferry users.  We were not the only route to suffer cuts of course, but Route 19 stands out among the other seven routes included in the survey as the only one to have experienced a material cut in service – and the effect of those cuts is highlighted in a series of observations by the researchers, who found that satisfaction among gulf islanders had reached an all-time low.  Mustel’s report says:

  • Overall satisfaction levels have declined in many passenger and demographic segments with frequent travellers and gulf island residents more critical than others
  • Satisfaction with terminal arrangements also dipped in most passenger and demographic segments. Most notable is [the reduced satisfaction] registered by business passengers and gulf island residents
  • A total of 86% of  passengers (4.07 on the 5-point scale) were satisfied with their overall experience on board, lower than the 89% recorded last year. The rating dropped slightly on Routes 5/9, but significantly on Route 19 (4.07 to 3.71).
  • Satisfaction with most aspects of sailing schedules dropped in 2014, as well as the rating for on-time departures on Route 19 which has declined from 3.89 to 2.69 this measure.
  • The overall satisfaction scores have been stable by route except levels have weakened on Route 19 (3.46 average score versus 4.13 in 2013)

It is rare for so many negative trends to be recorded on any individual route – but maybe Route 19 actually typifies the impact that serious ferry cuts have on ferry-dependent communities. In previous years’ surveys, Gabriolans have been amongst the most satisfied with their ferry schedule, its reliability and the ability to get on their chosen ferry. Now, in 2014, we became the least satisfied. A message we hope the government, the Ferry Commissioner and BC Ferries will take very seriously.

A summary of customer satisfaction ratings for Route 19 can be viewed here. More reaction on the Opinion page

FAC Chairs challenge government, BC Ferries on Fares, Economies and Sustainability

MAY 21, 2015 – The Ferry Advisory Committee chairs were pleased, and surprised, with the announcement of the 1.9% preliminary fare cap. Surprised, because with a nominal 2% inflationary increase in expenses, and the substantial capital program, we were expecting a much higher cap. Given the ground rules – existing service levels and assumed continuance of FY2016 service fee – we realize getting to a 1.9% fare cap was a major achievement. Any further reduction that might be considered between April and June would require additional accommodation.

Sustainability

Sustainability, the term, is borrowed from environmental science referring to ‘endurance of systems and processes’. We hear it referred to in terms of sustainability of the coastal ferry service, as if BC Ferries is in danger of no longer ‘enduring’. This seems to us like wondering if UBC or BC Transit or VGH or the Coquihalla Highway will ‘endure’. In fact, we believe that all four of those, as well as BC Ferries, will (and must) endure, hopefully in good health. That good health will depend primarily on adequate funding from governments and ‘customers’. All five are vital elements of the broad community infrastructure. The demise of any is inconceivable.

We are more concerned with the economic sustainability of the ferry-dependent communities served by the Minor and Northern routes, and Route 3. The ferry service is the economic life-line for these communities.

Over the past decade, we have seen the micro-economies of our once-vibrant communities slowly but steadily wither. Death by a thousand cuts. We, and local business operators, believe the rapid rise of ferry fares to unprecedented and unaffordable levels (Attachment 1) is the primary cause of the decline of most of our local economies. While the communities will likely remain on the maps, their economic sustainability is in grave danger.

Economic sustainability of coastal communities absolutely must be assessed and included in any future plans for coastal ferry service. Adequate funding and service levels must be factored into any vision that values adequate, affordable life-line transportation to and from coastal communities. – Read more