The B.C. government has confirmed it plans to reduce BC Ferries service on both minor and major routes, cut seniors' discounts and test slot machines on board one of its main routes.
Transportation Minister Todd Stone announced the cuts and changes on Monday morning.
"The first phase is service reductions to lower-use round trip sailings on the minor routes, and on the higher-cost northern routes, accounting for $14 million in net savings. These service adjustments will be implemented in April 2014," said Stone in a statement on Monday.
A total of 6,900 sailings per year on 16 minor routes will be affected. Six minor routes will not be affected.
Most of the sailings to be cut were identified as running at roughly 20 per cent capacity or less. These include early morning and weekend sailings, and late night sailings on the weekends, particularly during the non-summer months.
Other changes on the minor routes include combining separate sailing into combined sailings with multiple stops, and introducing a reservation system.
Stone said there would be another round of community consultation this fall before the changes are finalized and rolled out this April. He did not have an estimate of the the number of jobs that might be affected.
Future changes to the major routes are also planned, he said.
"BC Ferries will also implement further changes to the major routes prior to April 2016 to achieve $4.9 million in savings. Minor and northern routes will not be affected by these changes."
The specific details of how any of the major routes will be affected were not announced.
Seniors discounts slashed
Stone said the cuts and changes were made to make BC Ferries more financially sustainable.
"The B.C. coastal ferry service has been wrestling with cost pressures for more than 20 years. We are making tough decisions today to ensure that our coastal ferry service is sustainable for future generations. These changes protect basic service levels and are in keeping with the fiscal realities facing provincial taxpayers."
Stone also announced seniors discounts on the routes will be cut.
"As of April 1, 2014, the current 100 per cent passenger fare discount received by B.C. seniors (65 and older) travelling Monday to Thursday will be reduced to 50 per cent on major and minor routes.
"There will be no change to the current 33 per cent discount offered to seniors on the northern routes. The provincial savings of approximately $6 million per year will be redirected to support general fares."
Officials confirmed that BC Ferries employees are still able to ride the ferries for free, but said they were not aware of how much that cost the ferry service annually.
Slot machines to be tested
Stone also announced BC Ferries may add slot machines to its main routes, starting with a pilot project on sailings between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay.
"The government of B.C. is also considering the introduction of a pilot project to assess the viability of gaming, and is seeking feedback on introducing gaming as a permanent revenue-generating program on major routes between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland."
"The pilot project would be implemented on BC Ferries' busiest route between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen. If successful, gaming revenue would help reduce the pressure on fares with net revenues reinvested into the ferry system to support general fares," he said.
Stone did not estimate how much revenue the government expected to make from the gaming proposal. BCLC will be responsible for running the slot machines, and BC Ferries employees will be trained for the day-to-day operation.
Stone also said in the medium-term BC Ferries was considering changes to the reservation system to allow bookings on minor routes and discounts for early bookings, time-of-day pricing, a customer loyalty program.and adding passenger-only service to some routes.
He also announced plans for a $200-million upgrade of the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, saying it could affect how the route between West Vancouver and Nanaimo is managed in the future.
But there are no plans to close one of the two ferry main terminals in Nanaimo, he said.
Stone said in the long-term, BC Ferries is also looking at converting the fleet to natural gas, using standardized vessels, no frills vessels and cable ferries to reduce operating costs.
He said the government's goal is to limit fare increases to the rate of inflation in the long term.
But he said he did not see the BC Ferries service as an extension of the provincial highway system, as it is often described by many advocates.
Minor and northern routes affected
- Langdale - Horseshoe Bay
- Vesuvius Harbour - Crofton
- Earls Cove - Saltery Bay
- Horseshoe Bay - Bowen Island
- Tsawwassen - Southern Gulf Islands
- Port Hardy - Prince Rupert
- Skidegate - Prince Rupert
- Comox - Powell River
- Texada Island - Powell River
- Gabriola Island - Nanaimo Harbour
- Chemainus - Thetis - Penelakut
- Buckley Bay - Denman Island
- Hornby Island - Denman Island
- Quadra Island - Campbell River
- Skidegate - Alliford Bay
- Port Hardy - Mid Coast - Bella Coola (summer only)
- Check the cuts to specific routes