BC Ferries ridership has almost returned to pre-pandemic volumes

Feb 23 2022, 11:49 pm

Vehicle and passenger traffic on BC Ferries in the third fiscal quarter of 2021 nearly returned to 2019’s pre-pandemic volumes.

The ferry corporation has released its latest ridership statistics as part of its quarterly financial update covering the three-month period ending on December 31, 2021.

Over this period, there were two million vehicles and 4.1 million passengers, representing an increase of 26% and 43%, respectively, compared to the same period in 2020.

So far in the 2021/2022 fiscal year, BC Ferries has carried 6.7 million vehicles and 14.2 million passengers — up by 26% and 34%, respectively, from the same quarter in the previous fiscal year.

BC Ferries ridership rebounded throughout much of 2021, driven by the relaxation of travel restrictions, resurgence in domestic tourism, economic recovery, and high vaccination rates. Over the final three months of 2021, ridership was just 2% lower for vehicles and 14% lower for passengers compared to the same period in 2019 before the pandemic.

In contrast, within days of the sudden onset of the pandemic in March 2020, traffic volumes dropped by 75% to 80%, and in June 2020 traffic was down by about 35% compared to normalcy.

The ferry corporation attributes some of the growth in 2021 from the introduction of its advance purchase saver fares on the three major routes between Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island, which was a fare product that launched in March 2021.

BC Ferries saw a $1.6 million operational net loss over the third quarter — down from the net earnings of $98.5 million in the same quarter in the previous year, which was mainly due to the provincial and federal government’s $308 million in Safe Restart Funding operating subsidy.

Revenue for the third quarter was $222 million, representing a drop of nearly $90 million compared to the same quarter in the previous year, largely due to Safe Restart funding. Without the government subsidy, revenues would have been $203 million, an increase of $46 million from the third quarter of the previous year.

Operating costs for the quarter were $209.5 million — up from $199 million in the previous fiscal year, primarily as a result of more round trips and higher fuel prices.

In 2021, with growing fuel prices, BC Ferries reversed course on its fuel rebate on fares, and on March 1, 2022, it will implement a fuel surcharge of 1% on fares. However, increases to BC Ferries overall fares will be limited through 2024, as the ferry corporation is required to keep fare increases minimal in exchange for its previous government subsidies.

BC Ferries notes it used $268 million of the government subsidies as of the end of 2021, including $186 million in the 2020/2021 fiscal year, and $82 million in the nine months ending on December 31, 2021 or the first three quarters of the 2021/2022 fiscal year.

For capital costs, the ferry corporation spent $131 million over the first three quarters, including $51 million in the third quarter. This includes expenditures on the new Island and Salish class vessels, upgrades to the Queen of Alberni, major overhauls and inspections to existing ships, hardware upgrades, marine structure upgrades, and various other projects.

Later in 2022, four additional new battery electric hybrid Island Class vessels and one additional liquefied natural gas-fuelled Salish vessel will go into service.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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