Without emergency operating funding from senior governments, BC Ferries states it would have recorded a net loss of $165 million and a 28% revenue decrease of $262 million over the last fiscal year ending in late March 2021.
The ferry corporation indicated it received $186 million of the total of $308 million in Safe Restart funding from senior governments, as of the end of the fiscal year, according to newly released statements. The remainder in funding will be provided later in 2021.
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Instead, with the immense help from the funding already received, BC Ferries reported net earnings of $21 million, representing a $7.8 million decrease from the net earnings of 2019-2020. Revenues also decreased by $76 million or 8% compared to the previous cycle.
The federal and provincial funding is being used to cover revenue losses, additional COVID-19-related spending such as enhanced health safety measures, maintain service levels, and to limit fare increases through March 2024. TransLink and BC Transit also have their own share of Safe Restart funding from senior governments, amounting to $644 million and $86 million, respectively.
To mitigate the bleed, the ferry corporation reduced its operating expenses by $76 million or 9% over the fiscal year, mainly from reduced trips on the major routes and deferring some discretionary costs, including labour, fuel consumption, and contracted services.
Capital expenditures were also reduced significantly compared to the pre-pandemic capital plan, with these costs over the fiscal year totalling $122 million — down from $238 million over the previous fiscal year. Over $100 million in new capital spending — such as on new vessels, terminal upgrades, and non-essential maintenance work — has been deferred beyond fiscal 2020-2021.
The reduced transportation demand as a result of COVID-19 and the initial severity of the scaled down services led to a 40% year-over-year decrease in passengers to 13.1 million and a 24% year-over-year drop in vehicles to 6.7 million.
Over the last few weeks, BC Ferries has been ramping up services in anticipation of a surge in summer travel demand, compounded by high vaccination rates in the province, low coronavirus case numbers, and the gradual relaxation of health safety and intraprovincial travel restrictions. The 50% capacity limit on each vessel is expected to be phased out.
Earlier this month, after the provincial government announced Step 2 of its restart plan, BC Ferries’ website could not keep up with the demand of travellers looking to book sailings, and it subsequently crashed.