Pandemic slashes BC Ferries' earnings for the fiscal year

Jun 11 2020, 7:06 pm

The global crisis at the tail end of BC Ferries’ fiscal year, ending on March 31, 2020, had a highly visible impact on the ferry corporation’s finances to the extent that it wiped out much of its earnings.

Over the last two weeks of March, which happened to be the first two weeks of COVID-19 in North America, traffic volumes fell by 55% for vehicles and 69% for passengers, resulting in a year-to-date decrease of 1% in vehicle traffic and 2.7% in passenger traffic compared to 2019.

It carried 8.8 million vehicles and 21.7 million passengers, with traffic up by 1.3% for vehicles and 0.1% for passengers for the first 50 weeks of the fiscal year.

BC Ferries saw fiscal year-end consolidated net earnings of $28.8 million for 2019-20, down by nearly half when compared to the consolidated net earnings of $52.2 million for the 2018-19 fiscal year, with much of this drop attributed to the first two weeks of the pandemic.

Its revenues increased $15.7 million or 1.7% compared to the previous fiscal year due to increased traffic volumes and retail sales, which were partially offset by the impact of COVID-19.

“This past year will go down in memory as the fiscal year (April 1 to March 31) in which the first 50 weeks delivered one of BC Ferries’ strongest performances to date, while the last two weeks of the fiscal year brought traffic to a near halt,” said Mark Collins, president and CEO of BC Ferries, in a statement.

“The challenges of COVID-19 have been nothing short of profound, with impacts shared by all BC businesses, our province, our country and the world.”

Over the 12-month period, the ferry corporation states it spent $238 million in capital projects, such as $141 million for new vessels, $45.6 million in vessel upgrades and modifications, $26 million for information technology, $15.5 million for terminal marine structures, and $10 million in terminal building upgrades.

Operationally, the fleet recorded a service reliability level of 99.7%. It carried up to $8 billion of cargo, providing the ferry corporation with cargo-based commercial revenue of $90 million.

It made over 82,000 round-trip sailings during the fiscal year — 2,330 more than the previous year, and 4,277 more round trips over what it is required under the Coastal Ferry Services Contract with the provincial government.

In June 2019, BC Ferries launched the Northern Sea Wolf vessel for its direct northern/mid-coast route, providing the remote coastal areas with a tourism boost.

In January 2020, it received its first two new Island Class hybrid-electric battery ships, which will enter regular service by next week.

Last week, the ferry corporation announced it had reached an agreement with the provincial government to gradually reintroduce service across multiple routes. Rising traffic demand will be monitored, and service over the summer months will be adjusted accordingly.

The ferry corporation says it is maintaining all health safety measures, including enhanced cleaning and screening of travellers, allowing passengers to remain in their vehicles in enclosed decks, the closure of most of its food and retail outlets, and a 50% passenger capacity on each vessel to help support physical distancing.

Additionally, as a newly added measure, it is requiring all passengers on most routes to carry a face mask or covering.

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