Passengers watch orcas from a BC Ferries sailing. (Black Press files)

BC Ferries posts strong earnings before rate cuts

Last year highest ever for vehicle traffic, most walk-ons in 20 years

BC Ferries has reported net earnings of nearly $60 million for 2017-18, due mostly to a surge in traffic volumes for vehicles and foot passengers.

Year-end results released Tuesday included the highest vehicle traffic total ever for the fiscal year ended March 31, and the most foot passenger tickets sold in 20 years.

The earnings result is not actual profit, since BC Ferries receives a provincial payment of more than $150 million a year to meet its requirement to service smaller communities. It also gets a federal-provincial subsidy of nearly $30 million.

Even with traffic continuing strong so far this year, discounts imposed by the NDP government mean less revenue for the provincial ferry corporation. A promised 15 per cent reduction in minor route fares took effect April 1, and Vancouver Island-Lower Mainland route fares are held steady for the current year after a 1.9 per cent increase in vehicle fares last year.

Free weekday sailings for seniors were also reinstated as of April 1, reversing the previous government’s policy of charging seniors 50 per cent of the walk-on fare for Monday to Thursday trips.

RELATED: BC Ferries eliminates fuel rebate

A fuel rebate is being discontinued as of June 27. Passengers on major and minor routes will pay an additional 2.9 per cent, while northern routes will see a 1.9 per cent increase. BC Ferries decided to remove a fuel rebate that has been in place since 2016, due to the rising cost of fuel.

On a Metro Vancouver-Vancouver Island trip, the fuel surcharge will cost 50 cents more on a passenger fare and $1.70 more for a vehicle. For a northern trip, the fuel charge is 30 cents per person and 70 cents per vehicle.

Demand for BC Ferries trips has been met by additional sailings and introduction of new vessels. Total round trips were up by 1,190 compared to the previous year. Three new Salish Class vessels in service on smaller routes were built to use liquefied natural gas as well as diesel, and the Spirit of British Columbia recently returned to service after a refit that includes an LNG fuel system to reduce costs.

BC Ferries estimates that LNG fuel is 40 to 50 per cent cheaper than marine diesel, which still powers most of the fleet.

The addition of new vessels and and sailings actually reduced BC Ferries’ bottom line in 2017-18, with the additional fuel, labour and training required costing more than the extra revenues generated.

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