Red ink at BC Ferries

  • Jun. 20, 2012 3:00 p.m.

BC Ferries is sailing through a sea of red ink, with losses of more than $16 million in its most recent fiscal year, and more losses in the forecast. The $16.5-million net loss for the year ended March 31, 2012, compares to net earnings of $3.8 million the previous year. This result included a one-time gain of $9.3 million from the sale of the company’s former head office building. The company also reported sinking numbers of passengers and vehicles. For passengers, the number travelling in the last fiscal year were the lowest they have been in 21 years, while vehicle traffic was the lowest it’s been in 13 years. BC Ferries does not expect economic conditions or traffic levels to improve in the near future and is forecasting a small loss for 2013. However, the company said that if passenger numbers stop dropping, it should return to profitability by 2014. Representatives of coastal ferry users said they are not surprised by the most recent fiscal results, but are surprised that Ferries expects profits to return by 2014. “With fares rising at least twice as fast as inflation, combined with the poor state of world economies and economic indicators, it’s hard to see how ferry traffic can stabilize in the next two years,” said economist Harold Swierenga, chair of the Salt Spring ferry advisory committee. Sandspit regional director Evan Putterill, chair of the North Coast ferry advisory committee, said the poor results could affect fares in the future. “My real concern is what this means in the context of the province’s new plan for BC Ferries,” he said. “The new plan has set a target maximum of 4.15 percent fare increases per year, however they will not meet that target if ridership continues to drop – which it will unless fares drop to stimulate ridership.”