BC Ferries is the short name for British Columbia Ferry Services Inc. It is a self-financing company with a mandate to widen travel choices for users and to improve the quality of services.
BC Ferries offers ferry service under a service contract with the Province of BC. Through this contract, the government pays BC Ferries a defined annual subsidy or “service fee” in return for making specified numbers of ferry sailings on specified routes, with a maximum total value of some $106 million per year. The major routes (the three routes between Vancouver Island and the BC Lower Mainland) are self-supporting and receive no service fee from provincial taxpayer funds. The terms of this long-term contract are to be reviewed next in 2008, and thereafter every four years.
You will find a technical but short description of its terms on the page titled Contract with Province button on the left, and you can download find the full text of the contract (a 5.5MB PDF file) by clicking here.
BC Ferries Operations
BC Ferries’ services link Vancouver Island to the mainland of British Columbia, and also connect many isolated coastal communities to either Vancouver Island or the mainland.
The company runs ferry service from Prince Rupert, on the north coast of the province, to the Queen Charlotte Islands, and to Port Hardy on the northern end of Vancouver Island. In addition, the Discovery Coast Passage offers summer service between Port Hardy and Bella Coola on the central coast, with additional ports of call en route.
Its 38 vessels travel between 48 terminals, on 25 routes. The company’s workforce consists of unionized and management employees. The workforce includes 2,800 full-time workers, plus 1,700 casual (on-call) employees. All unionized employees are members of the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union.
During the 2002/03 fiscal year BC Ferries (as its predecessor, the British Columbia Ferry Corporation), carried 21.6 million passengers and 8.3 million vehicles, generating $490 million in revenue.
You will find a brief historical account of the evolution of BC Ferries through the buttons on the left. The account is divided into three phases: up to 1960, which is the period preceding government operations; the period 1960 through 2003 when the province operated the ferry system either directly through the Ministry of Highways or through a crown corporation; and from 2003 onwards, when the status of BC Ferries was changed under an arrangement which can be described as “publicly owned but private-functioning”.
The immediate predecesssor to today’s BC Ferries was a British Columbia crown corporation called British Columbia Ferry Corporation. Created in 1977 under a Ferry Corporation Act, it took over government ferry services previously run under the BC Department of Highways.
Ferry operations under the crown corporation ended April 1, 2003. In the Corporation’s final annual report, its chair reported that “following a process that began the year prior, the provincial government and BC Ferries’ Board of Directors undertook a core review of the Corporation in 2002/03. The process was initiated to examine every aspect of the Crown corporation in order to determine how best to remodel delivery of ferry services in the province of British Columbia.”
The company’s chair went on to describe the reasons for the change in status, as follows.
“In many respects, change for the Corporation was inevitable. As a Crown corporation, BC Ferries was very much dependent upon government for everything from rate-setting to vessel construction and spending priorities. Capital investments were approved within the short-term rotation of government fiscal priorities rather than adhering to a long-term business model that is required for a service of this magnitude. In addition, each decision was directly influenced by the politics of the day.
“This problem, which has been well chronicled in independent reports about the ferry system, seriously inhibited the Corporation’s ability to operate in a businesslike manner. With a major capital replacement program needed to upgrade or replace older vessels in the fleet and improve terminal infrastructure, a new model was required to access outside financing to make these necessary investments.
“The provincial government and BC Ferries’ Board of Directors examined a variety of potential solutions for the coastal ferry system. Every option was seriously considered: from retaining status quo for the taxpayer-supported Crown corporation model to outright privatization of the service. The option that was selected is the optimal solution. It is best described as a commercial model governed by an independent authority that meets the objective of creating a modern, safe and reliable ferry system that will provide improved service and greater customer choice while protecting British Columbia taxpayers from further financial risk and debt burden.”
On April 2, 2003, that Crown corporation was converted to an independent, regulated company under the Company Act, and renamed British Columbia Ferry Services Inc. This conversion was recognized in the new Coastal Ferry Act, which took effect April 1, 2003, and the Ferry Corporation Act was simultaneously repealed.