BC Ferries’ new CEO says the ferry corporation is making progress in hiring new staff, but could still face difficulties and cancellations this summer during the crush of vacation travel.
Nicolas Jimenez, who moved from ICBC CEO to BC Ferries in March, told CHEK News in an interview that BC Ferries has hired 700 new staff but is still looking for 100 additional skilled mariners during a global shortage of these workers.
“With labour markets as tight as we have right now, we’re struggling to find the people we need to get into these jobs,” he said.
“We’re going to keep working at it. We didn’t get into this problem overnight, and we’re not going to get out of it overnight. But I’m pleased the team has learned a lot from last summer, and will be doing as much as we can to avoid some of that experience. I’ve got to warn people, it’s not going to be perfect but it will be better.”
The new ferries boss also weighed in on hot topic customer issues, such as: is the coastal buffet ever going to re-open? The popular restaurant feature closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, when buffets were not allowed.
The short answer is: No, the buffet as we knew it is dead. Jimenez said it would take 80 new staff to run the buffets on major routes, and there simply aren’t enough people. So consultation will instead start this spring on how to replace them with some other food offering.
“What do we do with these beautiful spaces?” he said. “Because the buffets on those routes are gorgeous spaces. How do we basically bring a modern offering that reflects where we are at in 2023? What I will be able to say is later this spring we’ll have a view on what that looks like.”
One new change coming this summer will be ticket agents warning drivers to shut off their car alarms, to avoid all those constantly blaring horns on car decks.
Another pet peeve is the spotty Wi-Fi internet. Unfortunately, Jimenez said that’s not a top priority when BC Ferries is struggling to get the fundamentals right, like on-time ships. Satellite internet in cell phone dead zones is complicated, he said.
“It’s a little bit more complicated and a little bit more expensive than they might think,” said Jimenez. “We need a solution that is both sustainable and affordable, because let’s face it nobody wants fares to increase because people are using Wi-Fi on the vessels. We need something sustainable.”
On the topic of sustainability, Jimenez said BC Ferries will begin a review this year on its long-term financial sustainability. The corporation has a more than $5 billion capital plan to fix ships, build new vessels and upgrade terminals. Plus, it required a $500 million government bailout recently to avoid 10 per cent fare hikes annually over the next four years. Instead, with the extra provincial cash, the fare increases will be around three per cent.
Jimenez said that discussion about what BC Ferries looks like 10 to 20 years from now. In the meantime, he said his top priority is clear: Keep hiring as many people as possible to avoid major cancellations this summer.