What a difference a couple of weeks makes for BC Ferries – for all the wrong reasons.

The company released its year-end results on Thursday and says it’s facing an “unprecedented drop” in vehicle and passenger traffic, with a corresponding decline in revenue due to the pandemic “and the resulting preventative measures and imposed travel restrictions.”

Overall, BC Ferries reported consolidated net earnings of $28.8 million for fiscal 2020, compared to $52.2 million for fiscal 2019. 

“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,” said Mark Collins, BC Ferries’ president and CEO. 

“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 announced reduced service levels to meet the significant drop in demand due to the pandemic. 

The company added that it “kept top-of-mind the lifeline function (that) ferries provide delivering goods to island communities and transporting essential workers to where they are needed most.” 

“Going forward, our revised plans provide core essential service to coastal communities, while preserving our ability to operate sustainably,” Collins said. 

“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.” 

In fiscal 2020, revenues increased $15.7 million or 1.7 per cent compared to fiscal 2019, primarily as a result of increased traffic volumes and retail sales, partially offset by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In the 12 months ended March 31, 2020, BC Ferries invested $238.1 million in capital expenditures to improve ferry services comprised of: 

  • $140.9 million in new vessels 
  • $45.6 million in vessel upgrades and modifications 
  • $26 million in information technology 
  • $15.5 million in terminal marine structures and 
  • $10.1 million in terminal building upgrades BC Ferries’ fleet reliability record exceeded the target at 99.7 per cent. The company carried up to $8 billion of cargo, generating commercial revenue of $89.9 million. 

The new direct northern/mid-coast route and its vessel, Northern Sea Wolf, was brought into service. 

The company also took delivery of two new Island Class hybrid-electric ships designed for future full electric operation. 

BC Ferries provided over 82,000 round trips during fiscal 2020, 2,330 more than in the prior year and 4,276.5 more round trips over what is required of the company under the Coastal Ferry Services Contract. 

The company carried 8.8 million vehicles and 21.7 million passengers during fiscal 2020. 

In fiscal 2020, for the first 50 weeks, passenger traffic was up 0.1 per cent and vehicle traffic was up 1.3 per cent. 

In March 2020, the pandemic significantly impacted vehicle and passenger traffic. 

During the last two weeks of March, traffic dropped off with decreases of 55 per cent in vehicles and 69 per cent in passengers. 

This resulted year-to-date decrease of 1.0 per cent in vehicle traffic and 2.7 per cent in passenger traffic compared to the prior year. 

BC Ferries says moving forward, it will monitor traffic and service levels and will ramp up services to meet demand as ferry travel recovers.