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