Sunday, August 24, 2008

BC Ferries focuses on the positives in annual report

With the cost of riding a ferry increasing on the major southern routes and changes in scheduling annoying the northern folks, BC Ferries picked an unusual time to realease their sunny forecast for operations as part of their annual report.

The Daily News provided some of the highlights of the BC Ferry's spin in an article in the August 1st edition of the paper. The passenger side of the debate from a Queen Charlotte Islands persepective received coverage in an August 18 article.

BC Ferries steams ahead with optimism
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Friday, August 01, 2008

BC Ferries released an optimistic annual report last week that outlines the company's financial situation and its many plans for moving forward into the 2008/09 year.

The cover page the report proudly proclaims "A Super Year" on the 2007/08 report, with the company recording net earnings of $37.1 million and reporting an overall higher customer satisfaction rate. While the company's net earnings were down from the $48.8 million of 2006/07, the report says the decrease can be attributed to significant new assets that came into service during the year.

The report said net earnings will decline during the next few years as all retained earnings are invested into a new asset renewal program, and is consistent with the BC Ferries long-term financial plan.

However, the total revenue generated by BC Ferries was in excess of $40 million more than the $596 million from the 2007 fiscal year.

BC Ferries reported its annual fuel costs were at $86.8 million for the year, a big jump from the $45.9 million spent on fuel in 2003.

Even worse news for ferry passengers is that the company is projecting its fuel costs for the 2008/09 year could reach as much as $148 million given increasing fuel prices. However, both passenger and vehicle numbers increased in 2008 over 2007.

"In addition to the impact of high fuel prices on our operations, we are concerned about the resulting impact on our customers' travel decisions," said the report.

"The cost of fuel could translate into significant fuel surcharges and result in unprecedented total tariff levels. Although our traffic levels have not shown any significant effect from the higher tariff costs, the combination of fuel surcharges and the significant increase in the price of motor vehicle fuel could result in a decline in personal travel choices in the future."

Capital expenditures for BC Ferries jumped from $262.6 million in 2006-07 to $452.5 million in 2007-08, with the largest expenditure being the $382 million spent on new vessels. The report also announced that BC Ferries is currently testing the market to see if another operator could provide more cost-effective ferry service, as required under the Coastal Ferry Act.

Positive news from BC Ferries was that the number of employee injuries decreased, and the number of round-trips leaving within 10 minutes of the scheduled departure increased. BC Ferries' employees received 14,000 operational training days, up from 11,000 in 2006-07, and initiated new passenger safety management programs and security training. Employees also received career and management development programs, including 1,275 training days through the BC Ferries Academy.

As part of the company's plan to decrease its environmental footprint, BC Ferries has started an anti-idling campaign for vehicles on ferries and at ferry terminals, and are continuing upgrades to boats and ground vehicles in order to reduce overall emissions and become more fuel efficient.
BC Ferries also reported qualifying for $3.8 million in funding to offset the costs of security.

BC Ferries will also be opening a travel centre in the new Fairmont Pacific Rim property in downtown Vancouver, which is scheduled to open in 2009. The company is also excited about the completion of their $542 million Super c-class project. So far, both the Coastal Renaissance and the Coastal Inspiration have begun service and this fall the third ship, the Coastal Celebration, will set sail on her maiden voyage. The three ships are the largest double-ended ferries in the world, each measuring 160 metres in length and capable of carrying 1,670 passengers and crew and 370 vehicles. The annual report also stated that the new Northern Expedition, the $200 million ship that will replace the 42-year-old Queen of Prince Rupert, is expected to be in service by Spring 2009 on time and under budget. Ferry terminals will see a total of $250 million in marine and building upgrades during the next five years.

Islanders hit again by B. C. Ferries decision
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Monday, August 18, 2008
Pages one and five

B. C. Ferries admitted Thursday they did not properly consult the public about shutting down a popular winter sailing from Queen Charlotte Islands to Prince Rupert.

The Thursday night ferry service leaving Skidegate for Prince Rupert has been removed from the winter’s sailing schedule and will be replaced in October by a ferry service that leaves Friday morning at 6 a. m.

Because B. C. Ferries did not advise the North Ferry Advisory committee about the changes, customers were left finding out about changes when they tried to make reservations.

“Unfortunately there was a miscommunication with the ferry advisory committee, which we are very sorry about,” said B. C. Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall.

But that apology doesn’t sit well with NDP North Coast MLA Gary Coons, who has accused B. C. Ferries of not living up to their consultation process.

Coons said that because the former crown corporation did not seek public commentary on the proposed cancellation they were in violation of their own public consultation program.

“It is outrageous that the company is planning to eliminate the Thursday night sailing.

”Especially without informing people on Haida Gwaii or asking communities how it would affect them,” said Coons.

“If this is how their ‘active public consultation program’ that they talk about on their website works with communities, it is a complete failure.”

According to the B. C. Ferries website, their policy on consultation reads: “Recognizing valuing the support of community representatives who volunteer their time and ideas to assist BC Ferries in providing the best service possible.

“And… providing timely and factual information to advisory groups in order to support informed discussion… taking informed discussion with advisory groups into consideration in the decision making process.”

This time the committee was not informed said Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond.

”Normally when they make major changes they talk to us and inform us,” said Pond. “This was something that took me back, I was not made aware of the change.”

Pond said that BC Ferries don’t usually consult them on minor changes however he knew that there was a certain segment of the north coast’s population that did not agree with this.

“Certainly they must have (considered) this was a minor change.,” he said.

“There are some segments (of the population on the North Coast) who don’t agree with this.”

Marshall did say that it is expected to be a one off situation and that they normally have no issues consulting with the north ferry advisory committee. She also added that the ferry sailing would resume by summer 2009.

“We had to do some changes to our schedule because of work on docks in both Prince Rupert and Skidegate to upgrade them for the arrival of the Northern Expedition ferry,” said Marshall.

Minister of Transportation Kevin Falcon is away on vac

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