BC Ferries president grumbles about 'lower' than expected fare increase set for April 1

Ferry fares are set to increase April 1 and the president and CEO of BC Ferries is already grumbling about it.

Mark Collins says the 2.3 per cent increase to fares will make it "challenging" to pay to replace aging vessels, upgrade technology and improve service.

In the fall, the British Columbia Ferries Commissioner approved an average annual rate increase from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2024.

"We believe that this regulatory decision, being lower than we expected, may make it more challenging to achieve our corporate objectives," Collins said Friday in a news release.

A foot passenger ticket from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay currently costs $17.20, while taking a standard vehicle on that route costs $57.50.

$8.3 million in losses

Collins' comments came with the corporation's release of its third quarter results from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2019, which say BC Ferries recorded a net loss of $8.3 million.

It had a net loss of $3.7 million for the same quarter a year earlier.

Losses in the corporations' third and fourth quarters are not unusual due to the seasonality of ferry travel and vessel maintenance schedules.

Since April 1, 2019, year-to-date net earnings were $98.9 million. The corporation says that is $5.6 million higher than in the same period for 2018.

Officials at BC Ferries said that overall revenues are up due to increased vehicle traffic, retail revenue and provincial contributions.

However, operating expenses have also increased due to higher labour costs and staffing levels as a result of additional round trips added to sailings.

The corporation says it is making significant investments in the service, such as new diesel-electric hybrid ferries, upgrades to the Skeena Queen and Spirit Class vessels and other technology upgrades.

Fares were reduced slightly in December 2019 when the corporation eliminated a 1.5 per cent fuel surcharge from each ticket due to a recent decrease in the price of fuel.

Those savings amount to a reduction of 25 cents per person and another 85 cents per vehicle.

There have been no vehicle fare increases since April 2017 and no passenger fare increases since 2016, according to BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall.

Meeting 'corporate objectives'

Collins has not yet responded to inquires from CBC News about how the increase to fares may not be enough to cover improvements and what the consequence may be.

BC Ferries carried 22.3 million passengers and 8.9 million vehicles during the fiscal year ending March 31, 2019.

It provides year-round ferry transportation services to the West Coast of Canada on 25 routes, currently supported by 35 vessels and 47 terminals.