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BC Ferries says COVID erased what could have been one of its strongest fiscal years

The final two weeks of the BC Ferries fiscal year saw the beginning of unprecedented revenue losses
BC Ferries. File photo: Adrian Lam/Times Colonist

BC Ferries president Mark Collins says the company was on track for one of its strongest performances in the fiscal year that ended March 31, but the final two weeks saw the beginning of an unprecedented drop in vehicle and passenger traffic and revenue losses.

“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,” Collins said in a June 11 release announcing BC Ferries’ year-end results.

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

BC Ferries said increased traffic and retail sales on the ships in the period before the pandemic hit led to a bump in revenue of $15.7 million, or a 1.7 per cent increase over fiscal 2019.

But during the last two weeks of March, vehicle traffic decreased 55 per cent across the system and there was a 69 per cent drop in the number of passengers, resulting in a year-over-year decrease of 1.0 per cent in vehicle traffic and 2.7 per cent in passenger traffic.

After more than $238 million in capital spending, which included $140.9 million for new vessels and $45.6 million for upgrades and modifications, Ferries ended up finishing the fiscal year with net earnings of $28.8 million, compared to net earnings of $52.2 million for fiscal 2019.

“Going forward, our revised plans provide core essential service to coastal communities, while preserving our ability to operate sustainably,” said Collins. “Without question, this requires reducing costs further and looking for additional efficiencies. We have reduced operating and capital spending significantly and will only proceed with expenditures directly linked to safety and critical operations.”

BC Ferries didn’t start cutting sailings in response to dropping demand until April, when the new fiscal year was underway, and by March 31 it had provided more than 82,000 round trips – an increase of 2,330 from the prior year.

“BC Ferries will monitor traffic and service levels and will ramp up services to meet demand as ferry travel recovers,” the release said.

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