BC Ferries’ death spiral accelerates.
Massive fare increases have steadily reduced ridership, and management is so bereft of workable ideas that all they can think to do is double-down on their failing business plan by blindly hacking away at service levels while further fare increases loom ominously.
This course is doomed to failure and may well destroy the service entirely.
Innovative thinking is required. The path to that goal begins with an understanding of the core function of the ferry service: It is to provide the essential transportation link to communities that can only be reached over water — Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, and several isolated mainland communities.
Everything else is extraneous.
That means an end to the conceit that BCFC is akin to a cruise service offering discretionary travel and vacation package services; an end to pointless advertising and media relations functions; serious reduction in a bureaucracy bloated with supernumeraries and career-track empire builders.
Cleaving to the core function model means eliminating services for which there are alternatives.
Prince Rupert, having a perfectly good highway into town, is not ferry-dependent. Eliminate the Port Hardy-Prince Rupert run and save over $30 million. Some of that savings would have to go to a new, right-sized service from Port Hardy to mid-coast hamlets like Bella Bella and Klemtu.
Eliminate the Mill Bay ferry. It is a convenience and nothing more.
Rationalize the service to the southern Gulf Islands such that they are all served out of Swartz Bay, then eliminate service from Tsawwassen to Salt Spring [Long Harbour] et. al.
There is no reason why Salt Spring, large though it is compared to other Gulf Islands, needs three separate ferry services. That’s convenience, not necessity.
It is also must be questioned why Powell River needs two separate ferry links. The Comox-Powell River ferry service is a way underutilized convenience that could be done away with.
Either that or the Saltery Bay-Earls Cove service should go. Whichever service remains could be expanded if necessary to provide optimal service levels to that community.
There is no reason why there should be three major terminals on Vancouver Island connecting to two terminals on the Lower Mainland.
Duke Point was built principally to get large truck traffic out of Nanaimo proper. This is a good idea that must be maintained.
Close Departure Bay and centralize all mid-island traffic at Duke Point — it is large and largely unused, with great highway connections. All that is needed is to establish regular transit links into town.
The land at Departure Bay is quite valuable and should be sold off to the highest bidder.
Finally, management pay should be reeled back out of the stratosphere to a level more in line with salaries paid by the comparable Washington ferry service. Executives who object can leave — no one is irreplaceable.
Certainly, nothing current management has done to address BCFC’s chronic problems merits the bonus-laden salaries they presently command.
And if seniors’ discounts are now passé, then fairness demands that all BCFC employees — union and management — should pay when they ride, too.
At a guess, changes like these might save BCFC well over $50 million annually and take it much further back down the path toward once again defining itself as an essential service provider, the original reason for its creation.
BCFC desperately needs outside-the-box thinking to save itself before it is carried out in a box for burial at sea.