BC Ferries: profits and problems

BC Ferries is an independent company with a contract to provide ‘ferry services’ for the BC government. It should actually be called ‘Corrigan’s Company’ or something that doesn’t make it sound like it’s a government department.

This spring, Transportation Minister Todd Stone approved $19 million in cuts to BC Ferry coastal routes. Over 3,000 sailings were cancelled. At the same time, BC Ferries introduced a 4.2% increase in fares for the major routes, a 2% increase on Northern routes and reduced the passenger fare discount for BC seniors travelling Mondays to Thursdays from 100% to 50%.

How did these cuts to service and increased fares play out?

Record Profits

In August, BC Ferries announced that net earnings from April to June 2014 were $13.9-million, compared with $4.3-million in the first quarter of the previous year.

These profits have come at a cost.  Coastal communities are being killed off one by one and those in government that are paid to listen are deaf as a post.

Discovery Coast Passage Route

CoastalFerry BC Ferries: profits and problems
Discovery Coast Circle Tour – affected by BC Ferries cuts

On April 28, 2014, BC Ferries discontinued the Discovery Coast Passage Route with direct service from Port Hardy to Bella Coola.

They have taken out the regular sized ferry, the Queen of Chilliwack, and replaced it with the smallest open-deck car ferry “Nimpkish” which can only take 16 vehicles and up to 95 passengers.

Tourists now ride the open waves for 10 hours, arriving in the dark; hungry and stiff because there is no food only a vending machine and nowhere to sit.

If BC Ferries ran the Queen of Chilliwack it would take more passengers (389) and it has amenities. Tourists can sit on a seat or eat in the cafeteria. It has coin-operated showers, recliner seats, an elevator, and washrooms for people with disabilities. The Nimpkish has no amenities. None.

The Discovery Coast Passage route has been used by European tourists, who took the ferry from Port Hardy to Bella Coola and drove through the Chilcotin to Williams Lake and back down to Vancouver for a circle tour.

According to legislative reporter Tom Fletcher (who normally toes the government line) it was a bleak summer for tourism in the region as a result of the ferry changes. A bus tour of Canadian seniors heading west from Williams Lake was cancelled after 14 years. One tourism operator is considering closing down and other Cariboo-Chilcotin operators lost up to 90% of their business. This has a cumulative effect and soon there will be no operators that can survive.

With the tiny 16-vehicle Nimpkish now on the route, even if every sailing was filled to maximum capacity only 720 vehicles can be carried. That means the traffic level can only reach about one-third of the 10-year average. Two-thirds of the traffic that would have used the ferry in a typical year will now be turned away, unable to visit the region at all.

What does this mean for tourism on Vancouver Island?

Resource Extraction over Tourism

Why would the BC government want to kill coastal tourism and particularly in the area of Cariboo-Chilcotin? Would it be because there are plans for the world’s largest open pit mine that will take up 90% of the area?