BC Ferries eyes sailing, staff reductions

Passenger and vehicle traffic is down this year and is not expected to recover any time soon, so BC Ferries is considering a plan to cut hundreds of sailings to save money.

BC Ferries' new coastal-class vessels at the dock at Swartz Bay near Victoria.

VICTORIA – Ferry traffic is down this year and is not expected to recover any time soon, so BC Ferries is considering a plan to cut hundreds of sailings to save money.

BC Ferries issued its first-quarter results this week, showing a decline of 3.3 per cent in vehicle traffic and 2.9 per cent in passengers, compared to the same quarter last year. That’s a 20-year low for the spring period, and the first year-to-year decline in that quarter in several years.

BC Ferries had been expecting that higher costs and lower traffic would lead to a net loss of about $20 million this fiscal year, but revenues have fallen more than expected.

“Recently we have seen a further erosion of traffic and we do not anticipate a turnaround in the foreseeable future,” CEO David Hahn said in a statement released for the corporation’s annual meeting in Vancouver. “Therefore the year-end loss could be significantly higher.”

A review of all BC Ferries expenditures is underway, looking particularly at capital expenditures and discretionary spending. A hiring freeze and reduced hours for casual staff are likely, but layoffs of full-time staff are not, Hahn said.

Premier Christy Clark said Wednesday an ongoing independent review of ferry operations should address “structural problems” in ferry operations.

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom put a cap on ferry fare increases this spring, one of several moves billed as part of Premier Christy Clark’s “families first” agenda. Proposed fare increases of up to eight per cent on northern and smaller routes were capped at 4.15 per cent while Gord Macatee, the new B.C. Ferry Commissioner, reviews rates and makes recommendations to the government by early 2012.

Lekstrom said the review of ferries will examine the current public subsidy, and legislated rules such as minimum numbers of sailings and a restriction on using revenue from busier routes to subsidize smaller ones.