Bailout coming for BC Ferries, potentially with strings attached
VANCOUVER -- Federal and provincial officials announced Tuesday that BC Ferries, hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, will be eligible for a government bailout.
But the exact amount, B.C.'s Transportation Minister Claire Trevena told reporters Tuesday, will depend on what the ferry operator proposes and whether it "ensures the interests of the people and coastal communities are front and centre."
The funding, provided through the Canada Safe Restart Agreement, is part of a cost-sharing relief package where the province will pay half, and Ottawa will pay the balance.
The province has reserved up to $1 billion for the agreement, while the federal government had already allocated $540 million for public transit in B.C., to be shared with Translink and BC Transit, and now also BC Ferries.
"Public transit must remain a safe, reliable and affordable way to get around," said federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.
BC Ferries told CTV News it lost an estimated $130 million in revenue due to the pandemic, which the company's president and CEO, Mark Collins, called a "big hit."
In April, overall vehicle and passenger traffic was down some 75 to 80 per cent compared to the same period a year before.
By August, levels had reached roughly 80 per cent compared to last summer.
"Knowing that we're eligible [for funding] is a great first step," Collins said. "Now we need to roll up our sleeves, do the hard work, figure it out."
Trevena said a task force that includes both BC Ferries and provincial officials will work on a plan that returns ferry service to pre-COVID levels while also keeping fares affordable.
Collins didn't rule out the possibility of a fare increase, however slight, but said he recognized the strain the pandemic has put on all British Columbians.
He said he foresees Victoria will attach conditions to the funding, which he expects will cover operational expenses like wages, fuel and maintenance.
Trevena said there is no firm timeline for the process, but Collins told CTV News he expects BC Ferries to return to pre-pandemic service levels sometime in September.
With files from CTV News Vancouver Island.