On the same day a 3.2 per cent annual fare cap has been announced for the next four years for BC Ferries, the provincial government has unveiled it will be implementing penalties for the company cancelling sailings due to crew shortages.
“People want to know their sailings will run as scheduled,” Rob Fleming, B.C.’s minister of transportation and infrastructure said in a news release. “While BC Ferries is working hard to secure additional staffing, the provision for penalties is an added measure to hold the company to account for the services it is contracted to provide.”
When “core service” is cancelled, BC Ferries will be charged $7,000 per sailing on major routes and $1,000 per sailing on some minor routes, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure tells CHEK News.
“While these penalties won’t entirely make up for someone who has just had an important sailing cancelled, we expect some benefits to be returned to ferry users,” the ministry said in a statement.
The details on how the penalties will be applied will be announced ahead of April 1, 2024, which is when the penalties will be implemented.
“If we diminish the service cancellations due to staffing issues, it will substantially stabilize the company,” Fleming said in an interview. “It will be an accountability that is a new feature of the next performance term contract.”
This was part of the BC Ferries contract renewal, and details are now being announced to the public.
The official opposition is not on board with the plan.
Kevin Falcon, leader of BC United, said this doesn’t address the real issue, which is Transport Canada’s regulations around staffing.
“They need to go to Transport Canada and say your inflexible staffing ratios are a big part of the problem, we want some flexibility on the staffing ratios so we don’t have to be cancelling ferries because we are one person short,” Falcon said.
The penalties announcement came the same day that the BC Ferries commissioner announced an annual price cap between 2024 and 2028 of 3.2 per cent per year.
The commissioner had previously announced a preliminary fare increase of 9.2 per cent per year, and in the preliminary decision released in March, Eva Hage, the BC Ferries Commissioner had not taken into account the provincial government giving the ferry company $500 million, because details on how that money will be applied had not yet been determined. In the final decision, this funding was taken into account and lowered the price cap to 3.2 per cent.
BC Ferries has to provide 15 days public notice for any fare increases as a result of a fuel surcharge or removing or decreasing rebates.
Additionally, the company has to prepare a plan by April 1, 2024 to track the forecast cost compared to the set fare increase, and develop performance indicators to track cost and service effectiveness for human resources.
In the report, Hage notes that the number of cancelled sailings has increased in recent years.
“Service reliability has declined over the past few years. In [2023 financial year], 2,884 sailings or 1.60% of all sailings were cancelled compared to 1.26% in the previous year,” the report notes.
“The Commissioner has heard from ferry users that reliability also means travel certainty.”
In the report, Hage notes that the cancellations are a result of labour issues that the company is working to address. Hage says BC Ferries has made “significant strides” to improve certainty on major routes, and encourages the company to continue to address the issues on minor routes.
With files from CHEK’s Rob Shaw and Mackenzie Read.