Ferries needs to adjust to market

B.C. Ferries should perhaps follow the lead of the airline industry in trying to maximize profits.

The B.C. Ferry Commission has spent the past several months reviewing the affordability of the coastal ferry service.

The final report and recommendations are expected to be released any day now. They should offer some compromise between the current government-imposed fare cap and larger increases proposed by former B.C. Ferries CEO David Hahn last February.

There aren’t a lot of ways to bring down the cost of running a ferry. On the rare occasion I spoke with Hahn during his tenure, he made it clear where our fares go: fuelling the ships and paying for a relatively large crew aboard the ferry, the number of which can’t be reduced due to Transport Canada regulations on the ratio of safety-trained personnel to passengers.

But B.C. Ferries only makes money when there are people on board paying for tickets and buying pricey snacks. So if fares get too high and coastal residents reduce their discretionary travel, the ferries are hooped.

There’s evidence that we may have already reached that point. Last year, Ferries said its passenger vehicle numbers had hit a 20-year low and the overall number of passengers was continuing to fall as well.

I can count the number of round-trip ferry rides I’ve taken in the past year on one hand. And I used to be the type of person – back when I moved to the Island eight years ago and could get a walk-on ticket for about $10 during peak season – to go to Vancouver at least once a month for concerts or to visit friends.

I spent that first summer here visiting each Gulf island with a tent strapped to my bike rack. I pretty much had the passenger safety message memorized.

Now, if I need to go to the B.C. Interior or somewhere that would require taking my vehicle on the boat, I’m more likely to opt for a short-haul flight.

Which makes me think that B.C. Ferries should perhaps follow the lead of the airline industry in trying to maximize profits. On planes, fares are cheaper if you travel at an inconvenient time. B.C. Ferries should offer discounts on its less popular routes to help fill the boats and manage traffic flows.

This isn’t a new idea. The corporation ordered a report from the consulting firm Transportation Economics & Management Systems in 2007, which recommended time-of-day pricing. The Tyee online newspaper found the report this month through its tireless Freedom of Information requests. The consultant recommended that “premium fares” be 75 per cent higher and discount fares 25 lower than the current rates.

Of course, the Ferry Commission wouldn’t currently allow such a sharp increase on the premium end, but something along those lines is worth considering.

Another way I think B.C. Ferries could benefit by being more like airlines would be to sell booze on board. I know I’d pay $6.50 for a single-shot highball on a boat, the same as I do in the air.

By Ferries’ own account, fewer people are driving aboard and those who do know B.C.’s tough drinking and driving regulations require them to keep their blood-alcohol level low. But the ferry to Vancouver takes almost two hours, which is lots of time to let the effects of alcohol fade. Last call could be an hour before people get off the boat.

Whatever it does, B.C. Ferries is going to have to be creative if it wants to get its ridership numbers back up. The ferry is an essential service that must remain affordable.

 

•    •    •

 

On a personal note, I’ll soon be making a one-way trip on the ferry as I pack up my life here in Victoria and move to the Kootenays where, by the way, ferries are still provincially-owned (and free). I’d like to thank Black Press readers and staff for making my time working in the Island division a memorable one.

Sam Van Schie was a reporter for the Goldstream News Gazette.

editor@goldstreamgazette.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kelly Black, executive director of Point Ellice House Museum and Gardens, is working on years of deferred maintenance around the house and property. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Point Ellice House in Victoria looks to patch up during pandemic

Woodpeckers, leaks and rot keep museum head busy

Walkers ascend Mount Douglas Park on Sunday, Feb. 7. Visits to Saanich Parks are up 46 per cent compared to pre-pandemic statistics this time last year. (Darrell Wick Photo)
Oak Bay, Saanich parks peak in popularity during pandemic

Oak Bay spent an extra $5,000 on park toilet paper in 2020

This male Dungeness can safely be harvested after passing muster. An official with Fisheries and Oceans Canada says it is not clear how well locals on the Saanich Peninsula are complying with crabbing regulations, but her comments suggest that any problems might be of a minor nature. (Department of Fisheries and Oceans/Submitted)
Sidney and Sooke record 57 crabbing violations in 2020

While recreational crab fishery has ‘compliance issues,’ no evidence of ‘large scale poaching’

Police seek information after a pedestrian was hit in a crosswalk at the intersection of Goldstream Avenue and Veterans Memorial Parkway on March 3.(Google Maps)
Witnesses sought in Langford pedestrian hit and run

Suspect is older man driving four-door, gold sedan

The University of Victoria has said some of its students were impacted by an off-campus exposure to COVID-19 last weekend. (Black Press Media file photo)
University of Victoria students impacted by off-campus COVID-19 exposure

UVic has not specified where the exposure occurred

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of March 2

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: How’s your butter?

Recent reports have some Canadians giving a second look to one of… Continue reading

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

The City of Duncan will implement a new pilot project targeting vandalism this spring. (File photo)
Graffiti trouble? Duncan will give you the brush and the paint to remove it

Initiative based on a successful project to protect Port Alberni from unwanted spray paint

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)
‘Disappointed and baffled’ B.C. housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

The first of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s long-range maritime patrol aircraft—the Dash-8—becomes operational. (Photo supplied by PAL Aerospace)
Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s new De Havilland Dash-8-100 long-range surveillance air craft is capable of staying aloft for eight to 10 hours for a variety of missions up and down the B.C. coast. (Photo supplied by PAL Aerospace)
New plane will double DFO’s surveillance capacity in B.C.

The Dash-8 will fly out of Campbell River for enforcement, conservation missions

A recently published study out of UBC has found a link between life satisfaction levels and overall health. (Pixabay)
Satisfied with life? It’s likely you’re healthier for it: UBC study

UBC psychologists have found those more satisfied with their life have a 26% reduced risk of dying

Most Read