BC Ferries vessel. (Mike Patterson, Vista Radio staff)
The province is making sure that fares for BC Ferries stay affordable through the pandemic recovery, and that essential ferry service is maintained.
BC Ferries is now eligible for federal bailout funding to help weather the pandemic, through the new Safe Restart Agreement.
BC Ferries president and CEO Mark Collins calls it a “good day for ferry users.”
“It brings certainty to the future of ferry travel, I feel, and so we’re very pleased to be included in the eligibility for this funding program and we look forward to working with the federal and provincial governments to learn more about the program and how to go forward from here,” he added.
In late May, BC Ferries lost about 80 percent of its traffic in about 10 days.
At that time, the ferry system was losing about $1.5 million a day because traffic was so low. Collins said presently, BC Ferries is losing about $700,000 of revenue every day compared to last year.
Federal infrastructure minister Catherine McKenna says “British Columbians from all corners of the province rely on BC Ferries for safe transit to get to work, visit loved ones and explore B.C.”
She added that the Safe Restart Agreement “will ensure BC Ferries continues to provide these essential services.”
B.C. transportation minister Claire Trevena said ensuring BC Ferries eligibility for the funding reflects the “province’s shared values on the importance of our transit and ferry systems to the health of B.C. communities.”
“This is another example of the positive relationship we have with the federal government. By working together in response to the impacts of COVID-19, we can ensure essential transportation is available to support a safe restart of the B.C. economy,” Trevena added.
“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be an unprecedented challenge for our province, including our essential transportation agencies,” Trevena said. “As we work towards a funding relief decision, I expect BC Ferries to focus its attention on priority areas of public interest, including restoring service levels, keeping fares affordable and delivering a safe and responsible restart from the pandemic.”
Collins said the funding is going to be available for operational purposes.
“This means it can go towards things like wages and fuel and maintenance on the vessels,” he explained. “So that kind of funding is very, very important because that’s the core, that’s the heart of running the ferry system. When we can have those kinds of costs covered, it helps us prevent needing to look for funding in other areas.”
The province has earmarked up to $1 billion of additional provincial spending targeted to addressing COVID-19 impacts and restart plans of local governments and public transportation services. This funding is conditional on matching federal contributions, with 50-50 cost sharing under Canada’s Safe Restart Agreement.