2016 – A bonanza year for BC Ferries ?

The publication of BC Ferries’ traffic statistics for July 2016 signals continuing traffic growth on most BC Ferries’ routes – including Gabriola.  If the underlying traffic recovery continues, BC Ferries can expect a 5% annual growth in vehicle traffic, while passenger numbers are expected to increase between 3% and 4%.

BC Ferry Commissioner, Gord Macatee, puts this increase down to a number of factors:-

  • the dramatic drop in oil prices (which shows no sign of reversing any time soon)
  • price of gasoline at the pump has fallen (encouraging more highway travel)
  • US economy performing well (encouraging more travel)
  • the low Canadian dollar (encouraging Canadians to stay home and Americans to visit)
  • consumers with more disposable income as a result of lower fuel prices
  • the requirement for Americans to have a passport, a border crossing concern, is less of an issue as many more now have one.

Of course, we know that most of the extra tourist traffic ends up on the major ferry routes between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. Since January,  traffic between Vancouver and Victoria is up by 5.8% compared to the same period last year, and on routes linking Vancouver with Nanaimo traffic has risen 6.4%. That’s more than 10% up on traffic levels back in 2013 (the last full year before the 50% charge was introduced for Seniors)

What’s happened on the Gabriola ferry?

In the 7 months since January, vehicle traffic on the Gabriola route has gone up by 3.2% compared to the same period last year – while passenger traffic has grown by just 1.1%. During July, the number of vehicles carried increased by 3.8% compared to July 2015, and passengers were up by 1.8%.

Little wonder we are seeing longer line-ups this summer – as much of the extra traffic appears to be heading for the busiest sailings.  Of course, we get overloads every summer, typically between 9am and 1pm from Gabriola, and back from Nanaimo between 3pm and 6pm. But this year, the early morning and mid-afternoon ferries appear busier too, as people try and avoid the worst of the morning line-ups.

The difference is that, unlike most other routes, traffic to Gabriola has yet to recover to the levels recorded before the service cuts of April 2014.  Vehicle traffic between January and July 2016 is still 1.2% lower than the equivalent period in 2013 – though it has shown signs of returning to 2013 levels in the past couple of months – whereas in the past 3 years traffic has increased by more than 10% between Nanaimo and Vancouver, and at least 7% to both Salt Spring and Quadra Islands (two routes with similar traffic volumes to Gabriola).

Passenger numbers since January have, however, returned to 2013 levels – despite the initial impact of the 50% Seniors’ fare, which caused a 5% slump in passenger traffic during 2014.  So, even with the recent upturn in vehicle numbers, it seems the long-term trend is more of us travelling as walk-on passengers, resulting in fewer vehicle fares for BC Ferries.

Good for the environment; not so good for BC Ferries.

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