Public funds salvage finances at pandemic-hobbled B.C. Ferries

The pandemic continued to pound B.C. Ferries in the third quarter of its current fiscal year but the organization’s finances were salvaged by federal-provincial Safe Restart funds.

B.C. Ferries’ traffic and ­revenues declined in the final three months of 2020 and that situation is projected to ­continue in the near term, it said in the latest financial report released on Monday.

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The bright spot for the ­organization was receiving a $308 million lifeline in Restart funding in December.

B.C. Ferries ended up with positive net earning of $98.4 million in its third quarter, thanks to using $154.8 million in Restart money. That allowed it to outstrip results in the same quarter in 2019 when it recorded a net loss of $8.3 million.

“Without this relief, the net loss for the three months ended December 31, 2020 would have been $56.4 million,” B.C. Ferries said Monday.

Restart funds also buoyed earnings.

B.C. Ferries had year-to-date earnings of $74.3 million (as of the end of December). Without the Restart money it would have seen a net loss of $80.5 million. For the same months in the previous year, net earnings came in at $98.9 million.

Mark Collins, B.C. Ferries’ president and chief executive, said in a statement: “The Safe Restart funding will protect the long term sustainability of the ferry system to recover our losses and maintain service and future investments in ferry dependent ­communities.”

The pandemic continues to have a significant impact on operations and financial results, B.C. Ferries said.

In the third quarter, October to December, it carried 2.9 million passengers and 1.6 million vehicles. That reflects a drop of 39.6 per cent and 22.3 per cent, respectively, against the same months in 2019.

Year-to-date, the company carried 10.6 million passengers and 5.3 million vehicles, a drop of 42.1 per cent and 26.9 per cent, respectively, compared to the same period in the prior year.

The impact of COVID-19 led to B.C. Ferries shaving some of its sailings.

In the final three months of last year, operating expenses dropped by $6.7 million or 3.3 per cent compared to the same months in 2019.

That was largely due to cutting the number of round trips on major routes and deferring some expenses, which resulted in lower labour costs and less fuel consumption.

Capital expenditures in the three- and nine-months ended December 31, 2020 totalled $41.5 million and $90.8 million and were partly paid for by net earnings over the nine months, B.C. Ferries said.

All capital plans are being reviewed because of the ­pandemic. The goal is to find ways to defer less critical expenses.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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