During a question-and-answer period at a joint Parksville and Qualicum Beach chambers of commerce meeting, one guest asked BC Ferries CEO and president Mark Collins about the possibility of a discount for Island residents — a question he said he gets asked quite often.
Collins was the guest speaker for the chambers’ annual joint meeting Wednesday (May 16) at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre. Collins spoke about BC Ferries’ vision and mission as well as the perception the company has with its users.
As for discounted fares for Island residents, Collins said the reason it hasn’t gone that way is because BC Ferries wants the communities to agree on discounted fares.
“It gets raised at communities and we almost always (have) the tourism sectors stand up to say, ‘No, that would be discriminatory against the businesses that are here supporting the Island.’”
He said if a community wishes to see a discounted fare, it could be done, but it would affect people visiting the Island and bringing new business to the communities with higher fare rates. Collins said he’s heard from communities that “over our dead bodies will you penalize our tourists.”
Currently, Collins said, the major routes that connect Vancouver Island with the Lower Mainland are the “money makers.” He said those routes have higher volumes of traffic for the larger ships.
“We make money off those routes, and the profits from those (major) routes subsidize these other two categories,” said Collins referring to the other route categories.
In the next 12 years, Collins said, BC Ferries is calling for a further $3.8 billion in investment in the ferry system, which could result in 15 new vessels.
Collins said in the last decade, BC Ferries has introduced 12 new ships and some of those vessels are what Collins said are part of BC Ferries “light footprint” vessels. Those vessels, he said, are meant to move through the environment without destroying or consuming the environment.
“We believe coastal British Columbians don’t want us to pollute, they don’t want us to destroy; they want us to do our job without consuming the environment,” he said.
One of the newest ships, the Salish Orca, is “one of the most, if not the most, advanced ferries,” Collins said.
Jean Young, a Qualicum Beach business owner, asked Collins that of the more than 400 BC Ferries sailings per day, how many currently use the light footprints vessels.
In a roundabout answer, Collins said the average age of the fleet today is 32 years, adding that’s why the company needs to spend another $38 billion.
Since 2003, he said, the company has had 12 ships built “that I would define as state of the art and modern and life, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
However, Young said if BC Ferries is concerned about the environment, “should we not work on a business plan to borrow the money, from say, the government to fund (light footprint vessels)?”
Collins said that is “totally possible,” but right now the company is investing at the maximum it can afford without having an adverse impact on ferry users.
“So under the model today… to go faster would cause ferry fares to rise and we know that’s not what people want, it’s not what the government wants, it’s not what we want.”