Skip to content

Ferries CEO tackles questions from Sechelt Chamber

Mark Collins talks about two-ship service, terminal rebuild, parking, WiFi
BC Ferries president and CEO Mark Collins speaking at the Sechelt Chamber of Commerce AGM Jan. 24 at the Sunshine Coast Golf and Country Club.

BC Ferries president and CEO Mark Collins jokes that it’s a self-preservation tactic, but he’s taken to opening speeches to Sunshine Coast audiences with a frank admission that the ferry company isn’t serving the Coast as well as it should.

Collins told the crowd at the Jan. 24 Sechelt Chamber of Commerce AGM that by his estimate he’s been to the Coast more than 30 times since taking the reins at BC Ferries in 2017.

“We said right out we are not serving you on the Coast as well as we need to serve you, and I maintain that position today,” said Collins. “I think we’re making some progress, but we have not yet solved the basic problems which are facing this ferry service in serving your community.”

Over the course of a 20-minute speech and nearly an hour of questions, Collins touched on issues like the timeline for two-ship service and terminal upgrades at Langdale to the sorry state of onboard WiFi.

“If I had our time back we would never have started WiFi on the ships,” Collins said in response to an audience question. “It is probably not fixable… There’s just no technology yet available that will do it.”

Collins said Ferries may consider a pay-per-use system similar to the ones on cruise ships sometime in the future, but free WiFi onboard is likely as good as it’s going to get. 

WiFi at the terminals, however, is due for major upgrades and that will be part of the Langdale rebuild.

Collins said geotechnical issues have delayed the terminal project about six months, but he promised “shovels in the ground” this summer to begin civil works and site preparation, with construction of an overhead foot passenger walkway to start in the fall.

One improvement that won’t be included in the new Langdale terminal is a significant increase in parking, which has been a big issue for commuters in recent years. In fact, Collins said another increase in the parking fees, which are the lowest of any BC Ferries terminal, is coming. “The price needs to rise. The price is going to rise until it gets to some market level where people have an economic incentive to use that resource wisely,” Collins said, adding that also means a parking rate that makes it more attractive to use transit.

In an interview with Coast Reporter before his speech, Collins said the redesign of the terminal at Horseshoe Bay is “trending well, although the timeline is not as firmly locked down.”

Collins also restated BC Ferries’ target for having two-ship service on the Langdale-Horseshoe Bay route is 2024, once new ferries from a major building program start being delivered.

“Before the end of this quarter we will announce the construction of five new [minor route] ships,” Collins said. “We don’t yet have the shipyards picked, but I can tell you it’s going to be very difficult to build them in Canada because the price to build in Canada is between 30 and 50 per cent more than the price to build overseas and that 30 to 50 per cent premium comes from the fare box.”

An announcement on the new ships that will replace the C Class ferries is expected late this year.

As well as new ships, Collins said BC Ferries wants to have two-ship service on Route 3 embedded in its contract with the province.

“You want the contract to say two ships on Route 3, because then it’s permanent and that gives the certainly I think the community is seeking. So, we’ve got to get that amendment through the provincial government,” Collins said. He also said he’s been telling local government leaders on the Coast to make it clear to the province that they want, and support, the change. “It’s helpful if the community is directly talking to them saying we need this amendment.”

As far as interim steps that could help ease congestion and improve service, Collins dismissed both the idea of a BC Ferries-run passenger-only service to Vancouver or buying a used ferry to add as a second vessel on Route 3. He said neither idea would be cost-effective or practical at this point.

Another issue Collins addressed in his interview with Coast Reporter was the major review of ferry service ordered by Transportation Minister Claire Trevena in late 2017, which has yet to be publicly released.

“We know the report is with the minister,” Collins said. “We have not been asked for comment or fact-checking on that report, but we look forward to it with interest.”

Listen to the full interview with Mark Collins on Episode 132 of Coast Reporter Radio: