Ferry on time, half the time

  • Sep. 3, 2004 6:00 p.m.

BC Ferry Services Inc. has confirmed what many islanders already know: the chance that your ferry to or from Prince Rupert will leave on time is only about 50-50.
According to BC Ferries just-released annual report (the first since the provincial government made it into an independent entity), the Queen of Prince Rupert and Queen of the North left on time 52-percent of the time during the year ended March 31, 2004. That’s the worst performance in the fleet. Other ferries sailed within 10 minutes of their scheduled departure between 77-percent and 86-percent of the time.
And while delays of more than an hour are virtually unheard on any other routes, the two northern routes (Skidegate-Prince Rupert and Prince Rupert-Port Hardy) saw 60-minute-plus delays on 15-percent of sailings.
The annual report gives some information about the reasons for the delays, dividing them into three groups: delays which are the company’s fault, such as not enough crew (controllable delays), delays due to bad weather, stalled vehicles or other uncontrollable events, and accumulated delays, which means a delay due to a previous delay.
Here are again there is a gulf between the northern routes and the rest of the system, with the company taking blame for 39-percent of delays in the north, more than double the rate on most other routes. For example, on the major routes, most delays were non-controllable, with controllable delays accounting for only 17-percent. On the minor routes, only 13-percent of delays were classified as controllable.
The good news is that according to the annual report, the northern routes on-time performance has been getting steadily better over the past three years. On the Skidegate-Prince Rupert route, in 2001-02 and 2002-03, less than 50-percent of the sailings left at their scheduled time. BC Ferries says its target is to have 90-percent of sailings leave on time. (The Kwuna, which sails between Skidegate and Alliford Bay, is one of the few ships actually achieving that level.)
The report also has information about how many sailings had to be cancelled in 2003-04, and how many sailings were overloaded (overloaded means at least one vehicle had to be left behind). On the Skidegate-Rupert run, 11 round trips were cancelled – six due to weather, three for a mechanical failure on the QPR in January, one for vessel maintenance and one during the December labour disruption. Only two percent of sailings were overloaded on this route – much lower than most other routes.
Meanwhile, the financial statement shows that BC Ferry Services Inc. made a $28-million profit during its first year of operation. Ferries had total revenue of $509-million, including $106-million from the provincial government and $24-million from the federal government. Operating expenses were $411-million, while amortization, financing expense, and a loss on disposal of capital assets ate up almost $70-million. No financial information from previous years is included in the report.
The financial information is also broken down by route and surprisingly, the Skidegate-Rupert route shows a small profit of $184,000. The figure was arrived at after including the provincial subsidy in the route’s revenue, and attributing a share of capital costs to the route. The Kwuna also showed a healthy bottom line, with an $850,000 profit. The Port Hardy route was a different story, however. Although it collected much more revenue from passengers than the Skidegate route, lower federal and provincial subsidies and a higher capital cost left it $2-million in the hole.
The full report is available on the BC Ferries website at www.bcferries.com