For as long as most of us can remember, the Quinsam had capacity for 70 vehicles – or, as BC Ferries refers to them, 70 AEQs (automobile equivalents). The AEQ was, quite simply, a measure of deck space – notionally 5.3 metres – which was deemed to be the equivalent of one car length. When commercial vehicles and buses used the ferry, they would be counted as multiples of 1 AEQ, on the basis that a large semi-truck would occupy the space of 3 cars, a bus the space of 2 – and so on. The value of this calculation was that it enabled BC Ferries to report accurately on what percentage of each route’s vehicle capacity was actually being used.
In reality, of course, cars have got smaller over the years and it’s not at all unusual for Quinsam to carry 75 or more vehicles on busier sailings – up to 80 automobile equivalents.
Now, for reasons best known to BC Ferries, Quinsam’s capacity has dropped from 70 AEQ’s to just 63. We’re told that’s because an AEQ has been recalculated as 6.1 metres (20 feet) – which happens to be the maximum length of vehicle that can travel at the standard fare, but that’s where the logic seems to end. Quinsam will continue to carry 75 or more vehicles at busy times, so the new measure seems, well, meaningless.
What’s worse is that it now means vehicle utilisation statistics reported to government are suddenly 10% higher than they were before. In the 3 months from July to September 2016, BC Ferries reported that our ferry operated at almost 66% of available capacity – when last summer the reported figure was just 57%. Sure, there’s an explanation that an AEQ is now longer, but no explanation why.
To the casual observer (or as a message to a new government) it’s great news of course. Our ferry (which was targeted for cuts in 2013 because it only achieved 45% utilisation) has now averaged 58% over the past year – peaking at 66% in summer 2016.
No, it hasn’t.
Applying the formula used in 2013, it has increased from 45% to 52% in the past year – and this summer vehicle utilisation was up by 2% from last year to 59%, not 66%. So Quinsam hasn’t shrunk after all, and there’s no suggestion that fewer vehicles are being allowed on. Vehicle utilisation is increasing, that’s plain for anyone to see, but why change the formula now?
Maybe BC Ferries can explain the logic.
Meanwhile, here is a graph showing the vehicle utilisation each quarter since 2013 – using the formula that has served everyone well since forever. To enable this comparison to be maintained, the FAC will continue to apply the “old” AEQ formula during 2017.