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

Public invited to May 11 FAC meeting

The next meeting of Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee will be held on May 11, 2015 starting at 3.30pm at the Gabriola Arts Council Hall (formerly the WI Hall) in South Road, Gabriola.

Members of the public are invited to attend this first meeting of the new committee, but are reminded that this is NOT an open house session. Should you wish to speak on a particular topic, please contact the Chair by email  at gabriola.fac@gmail.com ahead of the meeting. We will try and ensure that time is available for anyone who wishes to speak.

If you are unable to attend this meeting but would like the FAC to raise a matter on your behalf, please feel free to email us with details of your question.

Topics for discussion at this FAC meeting will include:

  • Welcome to new members
  • Election of Chair and Vice Chair
  • Feedback on new ferry schedule
  • An operational update from BC Ferries
  • A proposal for a demonstration project to introduce differential fares for evening travel
  • A proposal for a Gabriola information kiosk to be sited at Nanaimo Harbour terminal
  • Enabling a wifi hotspot at Nanaimo Harbour terminal
  • The planned upgrade of Descanso Bay terminal in 2017/2018
  • Changes to parking arrangements at Descanso Bay terminal to improve safety and better cater for community bus services
  • Clarification of BC Ferries’ position with regard to future use of the RDN emergency wharf at Descanso Bay
  • Improving FAC engagement with the community

The full agenda package put forward by the FAC is available here.

Telling it like it is

“I’m not suggesting that communities and ferry advisory committees shouldn’t continue to talk to government and lobby government, but I think we have to have the balanced approach going forward so we don’t kill the marketplace.” – BC Ferries’ CEO Mike Corrigan’s words to the Coast Reporter last week. He gave a similar message in Haida Gwaii earlier this month (see In the Media)

Ferry Advisory Committees are not in the business of killing the market place. Our remit (itself dictated by BC Ferries) is to represent residents of the community in a consultative relationship to BC Ferries, and to bring forward local ferry service concerns identified by residents of the community to BC Ferries.  In other words, to tell it like it is.

As FAC members, we strive to put forward a balanced and informed view that reflects the strength of opinion in our community, whilst at the same time respecting and sharing the facts provided to us by BC Ferries.  Most of all, we recognise that many of the decisions affecting ferry fares and service levels are dictated by government and implemented (sometimes reluctantly) by BC Ferries.

Not surprisingly, Mr Corrigan’s recent statements have attracted an energetic social media reaction from coastal communities – and some frustration among Ferry Advisory Committees.

see also : Opinion

Gabriola’s new ferry schedule : Let us know what you think.

It’s early days yet and the new ferry schedule appears to be settling down, but we’d like to hear your views on how it’s working for you. The FAC will be meeting with BC Ferries in early May and it’s important that we have as much feedback as possible. How does the new schedule work for you? Is it better, or worse?  If you’d like to share your views, head over to the have your say page and tell us about your experience. Alternatively, email us at gabriola.fac@gmail.com and, with your agreement, we’ll add your comments anonymously to the website.

From time to time, the FAC independently monitors the punctuality of the ferry service, using satellite positioning data available on-line from MarineTraffic.com. The results of recent monitoring can be found on our Route 19 performance page. Over the first four days of operation, the vast majority of services have departed on time (up to a maximum 3 minutes late).  As traffic conditions have varied, so have crossing times, so when it’s less busy, crossing times of 24 or 25 minutes are more typical, compared to 20-22 minutes when more time is needed for loading and unloading. This allows the ferry to reduce speed to 7-9 knots, which provides a considerable fuel saving compared to the normal sailing speed of 10-12 knots and also reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

One point to remember is that BC Ferries requires all vehicles to be ticketed and ready to board 5 minutes before departure. Although tickets are not issued on the Gabriola side, ferries will sometimes depart 1 or 2 minutes early if everyone is on board.