Seniors Travel – where will the extra fares go?

From April 1, BC seniors who presently receive free ferry travel Monday to Thursday will be required to pay 50% of their usual fare. To be clear, this means 50% of the discounted passenger fare if you have an Experience Card, and 50% of the full adult fare if you don’t.

So where will that half fare go – to the government, or to BC Ferries?

Up until now,  each time a senior travels free, the government pays BC Ferries the equivalent of the full adult fare for that journey. So, for each free senior making a round trip  to or from Gabriola, BC Ferries receives $10.30 (the present adult fare) from the BC Social Program. Seniors travelling with a vehicle pay the full vehicle fare ($24.50) or $15.65 if paying with an Experience Card.

From April 1, the amount paid by Seniors ($3 if paid with an Experience Card or $5.15 without) will be offset against the payment that BC Ferries receives from the government’s Social Program fee. So, instead of receiving $10.30, the fee paid to BC Ferries will be $7.30 if an Experience Card was used, otherwise $5.15.  So, the cost to government goes down and BC Ferries is no better off.   Well, no – not quite.

Between now and 2016, the Province budgeted their likely expenditure on seniors’ ferry travel assuming no contribution from seniors. Now, with the fares that seniors will pay from April 1, any reduction in spend through Social Program fees will be added to the Service Fee that government pays BC Ferries to run our ferry routes – so, in the end, the amount that BC Ferries receives from government stays the same – and BC Ferries gets to keep the seniors’ fares too.

According to government, they expected to spend $16 million on supporting seniors’ ferry travel in 2013/14, rising to $17 million next year and $18 million in 2015/16. With seniors paying a percentage from April 1, government estimates the social program fee could drop by around $6 million, which will then be added to the service fee, making BC Ferries $6 million better off.  But if the volume of seniors travel reduces (as it surely will), the number of vehicle fares paid will go down too – and that loss will come straight off BC Ferries’ bottom line.

In 2012/13, the social program fee paid for seniors to make 45,761 return trips between Gabriola and Nanaimo – up 10% on the year before – and likely up to about 50,000 in 2013/14. Assuming 80% of seniors have an Experience Card (as 82% of all passengers do) then BC Ferries can expect to collect around $170,000 in extra income from seniors’ fares on Route 19 next year.  Seniors’ free trips currently represent about 12% of all passenger trips on this route – and those free trips likely account for at least 10% of the number of vehicles travelling. That’s around 37,000 round trip vehicle fares, worth about $650,000 to BC Ferries. So, if seniors travel declines by anything more than 25%, instead of making money out of the deal, BC Ferries starts to lose money.

The present contract between government and BC Ferries runs until March 2016.  After that, it’s all back on the table again.

Notes: All fares quoted in this item are at March 2014 prices and exclude the 3.5% fuel surcharge which was added in January 2014.  Data relating to the number of seniors’ fares funded through the social program is taken from information released by BC Ferries through a FOI request which can be found here.

Ferry traffic hits new low during February

Vehicle and passenger traffic on Route 19 plummeted during February to the lowest level for many years. The number of vehicles recorded was down 17% compared to February 2013, while passenger numbers were down by more than 13%.

Similar trends were recorded across the BC Ferries network, with vehicle traffic on the major routes down by between 4% and 7%. Traffic reductions varying between 3% and 15% were recorded on other minor routes.

The reasons are complex; undoubtedly high fares (and the 3.5% fuel surcharge implemented in January) have taken their toll - but bad weather,  the new BC Family Day holiday and heightened awareness of impending ferry cuts have likely had an impact too.  We’ve all noticed how much space there’s been at times when ferries would typically be full – and March shows little sign of being much better.

It’s unusual to see such a major slump in traffic in a single month – and for that slump to be recorded across the whole ferry system. The next two months will reveal whether this was a one-off or part of a longer-term trend. If it is, then April’s ferry cuts could be just the start.

Vehicle and passenger traffic is updated each month on our Recent Performance page


Working Group presents community feedback to BC Ferries

Members of the Gabriola Ferry Working Group held a productive meeting with BC Ferries staff on March 12th.  We presented community feedback to the recent ferry schedule proposals, which are due to take effect April 28.

Based on the response from BC Ferries, it seems likely that Gabriola’s ferry service will run from at least 5:40 am to 11:00 pm Monday to Friday, 6:40 am-11:00 pm Saturday and 6:40 am-10:30 pm Sunday. We want to reassure islanders that it seems the new schedule will be much more workable than the damaging and alarming Provincial government service cuts announced last November.

The Working Group has suggested a number of additional modifications to the BC Ferries response to help minimise the impact on existing ferry users.  Those suggestions will now be examined by BC Ferries, who plan to announce the final Route 19 schedule, along with those for the other affected routes, no later than March 31.

Needless to say, none of this changes the widely held opposition to the Province’s process on ferry service cuts, its lack of consultation and notice, fare hikes, and the continuing fiscal imbalance in ferry policy.

FAC Chair, John Hodgkins, later described the meeting as a positive move forward after 18 months of frustration with the Province.  Over the past three weeks, BC Ferries staff have been meeting with stakeholder groups to discuss community reaction to their proposed schedules on no less than 16 routes – and they now have about 10 days in which to assimilate all of that information and determine how many of the suggested variations can be accommodated.

Gabriola Island Chamber of Commerce representative John Peirce believes the restoration of an early afternoon round trip in peak summer season is critical for tourism and will be hugely welcomed by island business.

An outline of the proposed schedule changes suggested by the Ferry Working Group can be seen here.

Working Group faces difficult choices as it awaits feedback from BC Ferries

Gabriola Ferry Working Group is still waiting for feedback from BC Ferries following its submission on February 26, in which a number of alterations to the proposed schedule were suggested.  Meanwhile, BC Ferries has provided the results of its own survey of customers’ reaction to the ‘refined’ schedules that are now proposed for implementation on April 28.

Reactions to the BC Ferries survey underline many of the concerns that were reported to the Working Group – and our suggested alterations will, we believe, address the majority of detailed comments made to BC Ferries. However, it is evident that delaying the mid-evening departure from Nanaimo from 8.20 to 9.10pm will create problems for many regular travellers who finish work after 7.30 or attend after-school activities in Nanaimo.  The Working Group will therefore ask BC Ferries for the 30-minute meal break that was scheduled in Nanaimo at 8.30pm to be moved to 9pm in Gabriola, to allow an 8.30 departure to be maintained.

BC Ferries’ managers are currently meeting with advisory groups along the coast to evaluate the reaction to their recent proposals.  Representatives from the Gabriola Ferry Working Group will meet with BC Ferries on March 12.

Early indications from other meetings suggest that there may be no flexibility in the number of round-trip sailings that are to be cut from the schedule, with the government’s target of 834 round trips annually on Route 19 being immovable. If that’s the case, the Working Group must look again at possible options to offset the 40 extra round trips that have been identified as essential to accommodate increased traffic during the peak summer months of July and August.

Difficult choices

The group is now reluctantly considering where a reduction of 40 round trips could be made in order to allow the extra summer services to be maintained.  One option is to cut one of the late-evening sailings on either Sunday or Tuesday evenings, which consistently have the lowest utilisation (averaging just 4 vehicles and 9 passengers on the 11.30pm departure from Nanaimo).  Both were examined in the on-board surveys conducted by the group last November. On Sundays, the majority of passengers are making leisure journeys; those travelling on Tuesday nights are primarily returning from work or classes.

If BC Ferries is going to insist on sailing cuts to compensate for the extra summer sailings, our view is that the loss of the last sailing on Sunday evenings would be less disruptive than on Tuesdays. To be clear, this would mean that the last departures on Sundays would be at 9:45 PM from Gabriola and at 10:15 PM from Nanaimo, except that, in peak summer when leisure travel is at its highest, the last trips would be maintained.

What do you think?

The group would therefore welcome the community’s view on a recommendation that, if no other option exists, the last round trip on Sunday nights (40 weeks a year, excluding peak summer) should be foregone in order to secure the 40 extra midday trips necessary to meet peak summer demand.

We would also like to hear your thoughts on the retiming of the mid-evening departure from Nanaimo. Would 8.30pm work better for you than 9.10pm? Please give us your views click on  “leave a comment” below.

To see what the ferry schedule would look like if these changes are made, click here

BC Ferries releases results of customer survey on service cuts

BC Ferries have today released the report by Mustel Group of their customer research into which schedule option is preferred by Gabriolans.

92% of those who completed the on-line survey indicated a preference for the more recent schedule proposed by BC Ferries over the government’s initial proposal released last November, as did 86% of those contacted in the random telephone survey.

Almost 300 respondents submitted comments on the proposed schedule, which the Gabriola Ferry Working Group will review ahead of our meeting with BC Ferries on March 12.

A copy of the report by Mustel Group is available for download here

Ferry Working Group responds to BC Ferries proposals

The Gabriola Ferry Working Group has reviewed the BCF alternative schedule following receipt of your comments. Many thanks to everyone who responded.  Our recommendations are summarized in the following points, which we believe will address the vast majority of your concerns:

  • the morning shift should be advanced by 10 minutes (starting at 5:30 AM and ending with a 1:30 PM departure from Nanaimo),
  • the afternoon shift should be delayed by 10 minutes (starting at 3:15 PM and ending with an 11:15 PM departure from Nanaimo),
  • the Dangerous Cargo sailing should be moved to either Monday or Friday, when traffic is generally less than it is on Wednesday,
  • the refuelling should take place an hour later (between 10 PM and 11PM) and should be moved to Monday evenings when traffic is lowest, and
  • to reduce serious backups on both the Nanaimo and Gabriola sides additional mid-day sailings (dep. Gabriola at 2:05 PM, Nanaimo at 2:40 PM) should be added on Mondays to Thursdays over a 10-week period from late June to early September.

These recommendations have been forwarded to BC Ferries for investigation ahead of our meeting, which is scheduled for March 12.  Gabriola FAC Chair, John Hodgkins, believes the group’s biggest challenge is to convince BC Ferries that the reinstatement of the mid-day sailings will be revenue positive. “We have done a great deal of research into how much revenue will be put at risk if these services are not reinstated during the peak summer months. We believe that BC Ferries could risk losing more than twice what it would cost to run an extra sailing – even at overtime rates. We’re talking about putting back 40 round trips out of the 834 that government has told BC Ferries to cut”

In a recent message to Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs, BC Ferries outlined their view on what will be “on the table” for discussion when they meet with stakeholder groups:

“The purpose of the discussion on refinements is to identify a schedule to meet the financial savings set by the Province. The discussions are intended to identify achievable refinements within the following guidelines:

Implementing sailing schedules, including refinements, is the responsibility of BC Ferries. Refinement discussions will be on sailings times and do not encompass fares, service level increases or operating practice and must achieve financial savings

Discussions will include community needs for the remaining sailing times, e.g.:

  • Mid-day breaks
  • Layover periods
  • Connectivity to other routes
  • Dangerous cargo sailings
  • Connectivity to transit

The working group’s full submission to BC Ferries can be downloaded here.  Included in the submission are a series of graphs depicting the impact of the proposed schedule on existing ferry traffic. “The graphs starkly demonstrate just how much traffic will  be displaced by the missing daytime sailings, and how long ferry line-ups will be at both ends of the route if we cannot reach agreement on the midday summer sailing” said Hodgkins. “The impact will be felt all year, but it’s most serious during the peak summer period from the end of June to early September, so that’s the focus of our proposal to BC Ferries.  During July and August, ferry line-ups on the Gabriola side could regularly peak at around 150 vehicles - that’s more than double the capacity of the Quinsam, meaning line-ups could extend way back to the campground entrance and beyond, where there’s no safe queueing area”

On the Nanaimo side, the working group predicts regular summer overloads of 50 or more vehicles throughout the afternoon peak (3pm to 6pm and beyond) – that’s enough to block the whole of Front Street from the ferry booth back to Esplanade, potentially obstructing traffic flow through the bottleneck by the transit stops at Port Place Mall. “We don’t believe BC Ferries has  a management plan that will address this” said Hodgkins.

BC Ferries launches on-line survey on service changes

BC Ferries has now launched its own on-line customer survey on the proposed schedule change. Essentially, they’re asking “which do you prefer, the government’s proposed cuts or ours?” If you respond to this survey, make sure you tell them about any concerns you have with their latest proposed schedule by clicking “yes” to the question   “Do you have any comments related to the proposed schedule changes on this route?”.

The FAC believes that some further adjustment will be needed to make the new schedule work; if you do too, make sure you tell BC Ferries so. You can find the survey at

BCF Survey ad