BC Ferries will enter its next four-year performance term – Performance Term 6 – beginning April 1, 2024.
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure says in a press release that BC Ferries will be focused on improved capacity and reliability, buoyed by a $500-million investment from the Province to keep fare increases down.
The BC Ferries commissioner has confirmed fare increases of an average of 3.2% over each of the four years in Performance Term 6 (PT6).
The Ministry says that without the provincial funding, fare increases would have been approximately 9.2% per year for the next four years.
“I know that this past summer has been frustrating for ferry users, and a challenge for BC Ferries given staffing and mechanical issues,” said Rob Fleming, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure. “By lowering fare increases with our $500-million investment, BC Ferries can remain focused on delivering the service people need, while growing and modernizing its fleet to improve reliability.”
Fleming’s ministry says this investment will allow BC Ferries to remain on course with its capital plan, which includes investments in new ships, more staff, and terminal and technology upgrades.
“BC Ferries must invest in the technology and people necessary to ensure safe, reliable ferry service for the people of coastal B.C.,” Fleming said. “At a time of high interest rates, we made a prudent investment that allows BC Ferries to continue with its longer-term capital plans that will improve capacity and reliability, while keeping fare increases low.”
The Province has also renewed its service contract with BC Ferries for the next four-year term, Performance Term 6 (PT6), which covers April 1, 2024, until March 31, 2028.
The Coastal Ferry Services Contract is an agreement between the Province and BC Ferry Services Inc. to deliver ferry service and is renewed at the end of each four-year performance term. Government funding is provided to BC Ferries through the contract that defines routes and minimum service levels.
The new Coastal Ferry Services Contract specifies the annual addition of 1,433 round-trip sailings, previously designated as discretionary sailings, to core services on 13 minor routes. This will add capacity and improve service for smaller, ferry-dependent communities.
In Performance Term 5, minimum core service for Gabriola on a Monday in peak season was 14 round trips between Gabriola and Nanaimo. This was prior to the two-ship system being introduced. In PT6, core service will be 21.5 round trips, year-round, for the two ships.
Adding these sailings to the contract as core service levels now commits BC Ferries to provide this minimum service level. The Province is now including penalty provisions for core-service sailings missed due to insufficient crew. Details of how penalties will be applied will be confirmed in the spring.
According to Ministry staff, with 23.5 sailings currently offered on the Gabriola route, cancellations of 2.5 or more due to insufficient crew would be necessary to incur penalties.
“People want to know their sailings will run as scheduled,” Fleming said.
“While BC Ferries is working hard to secure additional staffing, the provision for penalties is an added measure to hold the company to account for the services it is contracted to provide.”
The $500 million provided to BC Ferries over the next four years was announced on Feb. 26, 2023. This is on top of the Province’s annual service fee to BC Ferries, which this fiscal year is just over $194 million. The $500 million will also allow BC Ferries to deliver greenhouse-gas emissions reduction through electrification of vessels and other initiatives to green the fleet and operations.