Finances balanced, performance improved and customers happier, say BC Ferries

BC Ferries has this week lodged its annual performance reports with the BC Ferries Commissioner, revealing how each route has performed during the 12 months to March, 2016.  Also published are the results of the 2015 customer satisfaction survey, covering a sample of routes including Route 19 to Gabriola.

Route 19 Financial Performance

This time last year, BC Ferries reported an operating deficit (excluding deferred costs) of $242,000 on Route 19. This year, that deficit has been turned round to a $110,000 surplus – achieved primarily through increased fares revenue and reduced capital costs. This modest surplus represents a 1% margin on annual turnover.

Farebox revenue (including social program reimbursement from government) fell just $379,000 short of covering direct operating costs in 2015/16 – compared to the shortfall of $532,000 reported last year (and almost $1.5 million in  the year preceding the service cuts). Expressed another way, the shortfall against direct operating costs is now just $66 for each round trip from Gabriola.

Significant cost and revenue changes from 2014/15 include:

  • Revenue from vehicle fares up by $247,000 (+8.5%)
  • Revenue from passenger fares up by $118,000 (+5.2%)
  • Social Program reimbursements (Seniors, students etc) up by $37,000 (+4.4%)
  • Direct operating costs (labour, fuel, maintenance) up by $249,000 (+3.8%)
  • Financing & Amortisation costs down by $175,000 (-5.6%)
  • Provincial & Federal Support (Service Fees) down by $65,000 (-1.8%)

Route 19 Operational Performance

Operational improvements reported in 2015/16 include:

  • Vehicle traffic up by 3.2% (but still 0.3% down from the year before the service cuts of 2014)
  • Passenger traffic up by 2.6% (up 1.3% from the year before the service cuts)
  • Vehicle capacity utilisation up from 49.6% to 51.7% (the highest reported since 2008)
  • On-time performance up from 90.1% to 95.8% of departures within 10 minutes of scheduled time
  • Percentage of overloaded sailings down from 7.8% to 5.6% ( but still 0.5% more than 2013/14, before the cuts)

Customer Satisfaction

In the year following the service cuts, the proportion of customers expressing satisfaction with the Gabriola ferry service fell dramatically from 84% to just 56%. Following a series of corrective measures agreed between the FAC and BC Ferries, satisfaction levels returned to 81% in 2015 according to the latest independent customer survey.

Before the service cuts, customers from Gabriola reported high levels of satisfaction with the frequency of the ferry schedule with a satisfaction score of 4.0 (out of 5). After the service cuts, that plummeted to just 2.3 out of 5, but following schedule adjustments in April 2015, satisfaction with the service frequency has risen back to 3.2 out of 5.

Asked whether the first ferry is early enough, the satisfaction score fell from 4.3 to 3.6 in 2014 (despite there being no significant change to the time of the first ferry in April 2014) – and has remained at 3.6 in 2015, even though the first ferry from Gabriola now leaves 45 minutes later following the April 2015 schedule adjustments.

In 2013 (when the last ferry left Nanaimo at 11.30pm) passenger satisfaction with the timing of the last ferry also scored 4.0 out of 5. When the last ferry was retimed to 11.05pm, the score fell back to 3.1 in 2014. Since then, despite the last ferry now leaving at 11pm, the satisfaction score rose in 2015 back up to 3.5 out of 5.

Satisfaction with on-time performance has improved significantly from 2.7 out of 5 in 2014 to 3.8 in 2015 – almost back to its pre-cuts level of 3.9 reported in 2013.

Also improved is customers’ perception of their ability to get on to the desired ferry – up from 2.8 out of 5 in 2014 to 3.4 in 2015, reflecting a fall in the number of sailings that are now overloaded. However, customers remain comparatively dissatisfied with their ability to connect with other ferry routes (especially route 2 to and from Departure Bay) with the score rising from 2.7 to just 2.9 in 2015.

A copy of the full annual report from BC Ferries to the BC Ferries Commissioner can be downloaded here.  A summary of performance reports since 2012 can also be found on our Route 19 Performance page on this website.

Snowbirds display affects ferries on August 10

Heads Up! The Snowbirds are back in town on August 10.
This means that Nanaimo Harbour is closed to navigation from 5.30pm until 6.45pm and Quinsam’s schedule will be disrupted.

The ferry schedule for Wednesday August 10 (for one night only) will look like this:

Normal service up to (and including) the 5pm from Nanaimo
5.35pm from Gabriola (Dangerous Cargo) sailing is CANCELLED
6.10pm from Nanaimo is CANCELLED
6.40pm from Gabriola will operate as normal
7.15pm from Nanaimo will operate as normal
8.25pm from Gabriola will carry Dangerous Cargo ONLY
9pm from Nanaimo will operate as normal
9.30pm from Gabriola will operate as normal
10pm from Nanaimo – EXTRA SAILING
10.30pm from Gabriola – EXTRA SAILING
11pm from Nanaimo will operate as normal.

Traffic management in the ferry line-up on Gabriola

In April 2014, Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure imposed cuts to our ferry service which, in summer 2014, resulted in almost a 50% increase in the number of overloaded departures from Gabriola. The immediate impact was a very significant increase in traffic lining up beyond the recognised turning point on Taylor Bay Road and an incremental increase in the number of drivers attempting u-turns on Taylor Bay Road in order to join the ferry line-up.

On 12 June 2014, FAC members met with Ministry officials Renee Mounteney, Nathan Vanden Dungen and Johnathan Tillie and with RCMP representative Markus Muntener  to review the safety hazards presented by this situation. At the end of June 2014, an interim, low-cost solution of additional signage and a second U-turn point at Ivory Way was identified and implemented within a month.

Two years on, and it is evident that signage alone has done little to reduce the number of vehicles making u-turns along what is arguably one of the most hazardous stretches of road on the island.

Earlier this month, the FAC resolved to make a formal approach to the Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure for a comprehensive review of traffic management for ferry traffic. Our request has the support of BC Ferries but, as we understand the position, BC Ferries does not have the power to invoke changes to traffic arrangements on the highway and we assume therefore that the responsibility for managing the safe marshalling of ferry traffic does actually fall within the purview of the Ministry.

These are some of the key factors that we believe need to be considered:

  • The ferry has a capacity of about 70 vehicles, which typically represents a line-up extending up to 400 linear metres from the terminal to a point that is already beyond the first turn-round bay on Taylor Bay Road – partly as a result of the unofficial parking now occurring opposite the Skol pub, which creates a gap in the line-up.
  • For at least six months of the year, most ferries departing Gabriola between 7am and 1pm attract traffic volumes that extend beyond the first turn-round point and necessitate vehicles making a U-turn somewhere in order to join the line-up.
  • At peak traffic periods, the ferry line-up can routinely extend another 200 metres beyond the turn-round point, continuing on occasions all the way into Ivory Way. Any management plan would therefore need to provide for at least 800 linear metres for ferry traffic to be accommodated at the busiest times, with around 600 linear metres routinely needed throughout the summer.
  • The designated bay for oversize vehicles on North Road is rarely used, since there is no reliable method for oversize traffic to rejoin the line-up at the appropriate place. The overwhelming majority of oversize vehicles therefore join the main line-up on Taylor Bay Road
  • In a typical month, between 400 and 450 large commercial vehicles and buses board the ferry from Gabriola. The impact of this heavy traffic on the structure of the pavement along the ferry line-up is very evident to see, with significant lengths of roadway either breaking up or showing signs of slumping down the embankment.
  • Only 21% of the island’s population actually lives in areas served by Taylor Bay Road, therefore at least 75% of vehicles joining the ferry line-up – and virtually all of the oversize commercial vehicles using the ferry – have to turn round somewhere once the line-up extends into Taylor Bay Road.
  • The FAC recognises that there is no simple solution, but the community remains unconvinced that the present regime of advisory and regulatory signage will ever deliver a self-enforcing solution to the traffic safety problems we have today.
  • Suggestions varying from plastic or concrete median barriers on Taylor Bay Road to a new ferry parking lot built over the inlet alongside Ferry Hill have all been put forward by the community, but do we in fact need to question whether Taylor Bay Road is the wrong place for ferry traffic to be marshalled, given that up to 75% of vehicles approach the line-up from the direction of the village?
  • Is there, for example, a solution that could accommodate the vast majority of ferry traffic along North Road between here and the ferry terminal, with any exceptional overloads using either North Road or South Road? There would be potential conflicts to be managed around property and business accesses and parking for the Saturday farmers market, and there would almost certainly need to be a traffic roundabout created at the North Road/South Road junction, but would such a move offer a safer solution in the longer term?.

The Ferry Advisory Committee is asking MoTI to undertake a comprehensive study of the safety issues created by ferry traffic waiting to leave Gabriola.

The FAC will offer its full support and input to the study and is prepared to put forward an options paper for consideration by the various parties, but would welcome a commitment from the Ministry to take the matter forward before embarking on any further work.

Extra weekend ferries start this weekend

BC Ferries’ revised summer schedule is now in effect, and runs until September 5.

What’s changed? Well, nothing at all on weekdays – but on Saturdays and Sundays the 1.50pm from Gabriola and 2.25pm from Nanaimo are back, to help clear the extra summer traffic. The last day of operation of these extra sailings will be Sunday, September 4th, but they’ll be back for Summer 2017.

To download and print a copy of the summer schedule, click here

FAC public meeting on November 2

The Fall meeting of the Ferry Advisory Committee takes place this Monday (November 2) starting at 3pm in the GAC Hall (behind the Post Office) in Gabriola.

FAC members have asked BC Ferries for information about the results of the recent passenger fare reduction and for an explanation of the level of savings achieved by the 2014 service cuts to our route. We have also asked BC Ferries to provide a review of the impacts of the April 2015 schedule change including, specifically, the early afternoon gap in the schedule at weekends.

With a five-week experimental fare discount on vehicle fares starting later this month, we will be asking BC Ferries whether the FAC’s plan (which we discussed at the May meeting) for long-term reductions to evening and weekend fares could now become a reality.

Members of the public are invited to come along and listen to the discussion on Monday; anyone wishing to speak at the meeting should make their wish known to the Chair before the start of the meeting.  In my absence, Steven Earle will be taking the chair for this meeting.

The full agenda can be found here .

BC Ferries discounts vehicle fares for five weeks

BC Ferries today announced a five-week vehicle fare discount promotion on selected sailings on all ferry routes starting November 16.

Between November 16 and December 19,  standard vehicle fares will be 50% of the regular price, with vehicle fares for Experience Card users reduced by about 20%. The reduced vehicle fares will be available on Mondays to Thursdays and Saturdays. Regular fares will apply on Fridays and Sundays.

For Gabriolans, this means that a round-trip vehicle fare on discounted sailings will cost $13.25, down from the regular vehicle fare of $26.45. Experience Card users will pay $13.25 instead of $16.90. Reduced fares will be available on sailings leaving Nanaimo at the following times:

vehicle fare reductionsNormal passenger fares will apply during this promotion.

The 50% discount on vehicle fares will also be available on specified sailings to and from the mainland from Departure Bay and Duke Point. Full details can be found on the BC Ferries website

Onward travel connections – Fall 2015

The start of the Fall schedules bring changes on a number of ferry, bus and air services to and from Nanaimo.  Check out our Onward Travel Connections page for details of revised fall and winter schedules on the following routes:

Ferry loading and unloading – the mystery unravelled

Always a topic of debate, we asked BC Ferries to explain the logic – and what’s changed – when it comes to loading and unloading vehicles from Quinsam.

First, the short answer

– BC Ferries has a standard for all crews and are striving for consistency in loading/unloading.
– Yes, there was a trial procedure in the past months, and customers may have seen differences between crews.
– However, because no two loads are identical, the loader/discharger require some flexibility in order to minimise risk and maximise efficiency, and are expected to use their discretion in the execution of their duties.

Now, the longer answer

Because of the variety of traffic that arrives for each sailing, there has to be some flexibility and 100% consistency is not a practical objective. However, BC Ferries does aim for consistency across all crews. To this end, the following are now our standard loading and unloading procedures, where traffic conditions permit:


–      The first three vehicles in line are directed down lane 1 (middle),
–      The next three are loaded down lane 2, and the three vehicles following that are put down lane 3.
–      Next, large vehicles (commercials, RVs etc) are loaded down the remainder of lane 1.
–      Full size trucks and larger personal vehicles are loaded down lanes 2 and 3.
–      Finally, small vehicles are loaded down the outboard lanes (4 & 5).

The reason for loading our traffic lanes according to vehicle size, is to provide sufficient space between vehicles and enable customers to get out of their cars. We have found from experience that this is the best method of loading the ship so as to ensure we carry as many vehicles as possible.


–      The first three vehicles from lane 1, 2 and 3 are discharged first.
–      Then, the remainder of the centre lane is unloaded, followed by the lanes on either side (Lanes 2 & 3).
–      Finally, the outboard lanes (4 and 5) are discharged last.

Why has BC Ferries adopted this standard?

This process was started earlier this year after a couple of accidents on deck where large vehicles contacted smaller vehicles in the lane immediately to starboard of the centreline. By clearing the area occupied by the first three vehicles in the three middle lanes, we alleviate some risk, where larger vehicles turning onto the ramp risked hitting the sides of these cars and trucks. This is particularly important in Gabriola, where the ship tends to lie at a slight angle to the ramp. It also helps to open the working area on the bow of the ship for our crew, thus improving workplace safety. In addition, this attempts to ensure that the first 9 vehicles on, are the first 9 vehicles off, although this is completely dependent on the expected traffic.

Trial & Results

Yes, in an attempt to address customer concerns, a trial was run using one of our watches this summer. After ‘the first nine vehicles’, we offloaded the lanes either side of the centre lane first, followed by the outboard lanes and finally the centre lane. The idea behind this was to hold back the large heavy commercial vehicles and large recreational vehicles so that they did not hold up smaller, faster traffic, and it also enabled us to load the centre lane last, but retain some semblance of discharging in the order of loading.

This trial had positive and negative aspects, but we felt that the current method of middle lane first was safer and more efficient. Because this was done with just one of three watches (crews), customer comments regarding inconsistency may have come from experiencing this trial on occasion.


Although the process outlined above is now being used as the standard procedure for all watches, the type of traffic that is actually boarding may dictate discretion in the process. For example, large loads of commercial/RV traffic may mean the crew needs to alter the standard to ensure they can safely load as many vehicles as possible. The most common adjustment is that we do not load the first three cars in the centre lane, because we require this space for large or commercial traffic. Additionally, space in the adjacent lanes may also need to be made for commercial vehicles.

As well, crew are expected to use their discretion and break from the normal procedures where they perceive that contact between vehicles could result due to lack of space between the lanes or any other reason. As our crew cannot see the entire mix of traffic waiting when loading in Gabriola, they need to load for the traffic that they expect to receive based on the time of year, day of the week, time of day and/or expected commercial traffic.

Ultimately, we do our very best to ensure that we carry as many vehicles as we can in a safe and efficient manner. Whether a customer is loaded into the centre lane or one of our outboard lanes is not a reflection upon the individual driving the vehicle, but upon the size of the vehicle that they are driving and the other factors outlined above.

Our thanks to Quinsam’s Senior Master, Captain Mark Waugh, for providing this comprehensive explanation.

A look back at 2014 : ferry cuts and fares for seniors

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

Time for some SERIOUS joined-up transport planning

Two years ago, Nanaimo Regional Transit asked its Stakeholder Advisory Group how connections with BC Ferries could be improved. The discussion went something like this….

“There’s nothing worse than watching a transit bus depart the ferry terminal just as passengers are walking down the ramp from the ferry. Equally, it’s unrealistic to expect a bus full of passengers from Hammond Bay to wait 15 minutes for a late ferry arriving at Departure Bay. What’s needed is a dedicated shuttle service  for ferry passengers.”


The advisors were impressed how quickly Nanaimo Regional Transit responded with the introduction of Route 25 – promoted by BC Transit as the Ferry Shuttle – and scheduled to meet most daytime ferries at Departure Bay. It was never promoted by BC Ferries though, and most days the service ran with just a handful of passengers. Now and again, it actually connected with Gabriola ferries, making the transfer from Nanaimo Harbour and Departure Bay more reliable.

Then came summer. Like every summer before, BC Ferries changed its ferry schedule in and out of Departure Bay for four months. Most ferries arrive 10, 20 or 30 minutes later during the summer months, but Nanaimo Transit’s Ferry Shuttle never changed. Between June and September, it became virtually a No-Ferry Shuttle.

ferry connectionsSummer 2014 came and went, and 2015 has been no different. Just as the ferries started filling up with walk-on passengers (including more than a few Gabriolans) the shuttle buses from Departure Bay went their own sweet way and ferry passengers were once more left standing at the roadside. Even when a connection seemed possible, passengers could not be certain that the bus would wait if the ferry was delayed. “Allow yourself extra time for unplanned delays” says the new RDN Transit Rider’s Guide. That’s no help if you’ve got another ferry to catch. That’s a cop-out.

Early next month, RDN Transit introduces a new schedule onto its Ferry Shuttle. Gone are the early morning connections with the popular 8.30am ferry from Departure Bay. Gone is the service on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Also gone is the convenience of the Ferry Shuttle calling at Port Place, alongside the Nanaimo Harbour terminal. Maybe Gabriolans were never supposed to use the service in the first place?

Last week, Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs were told that BC Ferries was launching a new working relationship with BC Transit to improve bus and ferry connectivity on the Sunshine Coast. Your FAC Chair reminded BC Ferries that they should also take a long hard look at what’s happening in Nanaimo.

A ferry shuttle service should be just that. A shuttle service between ferries. A service that actually connects with ferries, month in, month out, all year round. If BC Transit can’t meet the bill, maybe someone else should.  Island Link Buses and Tofino Bus can offer guaranteed connections at Departure Bay, so how difficult can it be to run a ferry shuttle across town that actually guarantees to wait for the ferries?

Meanwhile, RDN’s Transit Future Plan acknowledges that the travelling public wants “improved transit connections to BC Ferries terminals, especially Duke Point Ferry Terminal”. In case that’s not clear, what the public really wants are transit services and ferry services that connect with one another. That requires more than a working relationship. It requires a commitment between two government-controlled transport agencies to work together for the benefit of their customers, most of whom are also BC taxpayers.

How difficult can it be?