Government grant helped keep B.C. Ferries afloat during pandemic

Without a massive government grant, B.C. Ferries would have been floating in red ink in fiscal 2021, according to financial documents released Friday.

A $308-million grant from the federal-provincial Safe Restart Program — $186 million of it in the 2021 fiscal year — helped offset millions in losses suffered by the ferry corporation through the pandemic and allowed it to post a $21-million net profit for the fiscal year, which ended March 31.

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Without the grant, B.C. Ferries would have posted a loss of $165 million.

“We recognize the vital contributions from the federal and provincial governments with the Safe Restart funding, which we have used to continue to provide a safe and reliable ferry service for British Columbians who need to travel, as well as ensuring the delivery of essential goods to Vancouver Island and to rural and remote communities,” said B.C. Ferries chief executive Mark Collins. “This funding has also helped us to protect the long-term viability of the coastal ferry service.”

According to its year-end financial report, B.C. Ferries’ profit dropped $7.8 million from 2020’s profit of $28.8 million, a year that was also touched by the pandemic.

In 2019, the corporation posted a profit of $52.2 million.

The effect of the pandemic was massive. At times, the corporation claimed it was losing $1.5 million a day as demand dropped by as much as 80 per cent.

With the restart funding added to the coffers, B.C. Ferries’ revenue fell by $76.1 million compared to the previous year. Without the grant, revenues would have dropped by $262.1 million to $679.3 million.

Over the last 12 months, B.C. Ferries carried 13.1 million passengers and 6.7 million vehicles, a decrease of 40 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively, compared to fiscal 2020. The company does expect financial results to continue to improve, in part due to Safe Restart funding and the provincial economy recovering from the effects of the pandemic.

The restart funding is meant to offset revenue losses and COVID-19-related spending, maintain service levels and keep fare increases to affordable levels.

According to B.C. Ferries, it will also support the long-term sustainability of the ferry system and provide for essential vessel, terminal and infrastructure investments over the coming year.

As a result of the pandemic, B.C. Ferries cut its operations budget by $76.3 million to $779.8 million compared to the previous year. Capital expenditures for the year were $122 million, down from $238.1 million in fiscal 2020.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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