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British Columbia Ferry Services Inc.
Trade name
BC Ferries
Organized as a privately held company, with the provincial Crown as sole shareholder
Industry Transportation
Founded Victoria, British Columbia (June 15, 1960)
Headquarters Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Key people
John A. Horning, Chair
Mark Collins, President & CEO
Products Ferry service
Revenue Decrease C$925.6 million (2019)
Operating income
Decrease C$104.9 million (2019)
Decrease C$52.2 million (2019)
Owner BC Ferry Authority (Government of British Columbia)
Number of employees
4,500 (2017)

British Columbia Ferry Services Inc., operating as BC Ferries (BCF), is a former provincial Crown corporation, now operating as an independently managed, publicly owned Canadian company. BC Ferries provides all major passenger and vehicle ferry services for coastal and island communities in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Set up in 1960 to provide a similar service to that provided by the Black Ball Line and the Canadian Pacific Railway, which were affected by job action at the time, BC Ferries has become the largest passenger ferry line in North America , operating a fleet of 36 vessels with a total passenger and crew capacity of over 27,000, serving 47 locations on the B.C. coast.

As BC Ferries provides an essential link from mainland British Columbia to the various islands, and parts of the mainland without road access, on its routes, it is subsidized by the Government of British Columbia ($151 million in the 2011 fiscal year) and the Government of Canada ($27 million in the 2011 fiscal year). The inland ferries operating on British Columbia's rivers and lakes are not run by BC Ferries. The responsibility for their provision rests with the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation, which contracts operation to various private sector companies.

History

In the summer of 1958, a strike by employees of CP Steamships and the Black Ball Line caused the Social Credit government of W. A. C. Bennett to decide that the coastal ferry service in B.C. needed to be government-owned, and so it set about creating BC Ferries. Minister of Highways Phil Gaglardi was tasked with overseeing the new Crown corporation and its rapid expansion.

Tsawwassen-Terminal-aerial
Tsawwassen terminal was constructed by filling in a large area at the end of a causeway in 1960
BC Ferries Tsawwassen Tollbooths
Tollbooths at Tsawwassen Terminal
BC Ferries Loading Ramp
A BC Ferries loading dock (berth 4 at Tsawwassen terminal)
Loaded onto a ferry
Final loading of cars onto a ferry

BC Ferries' first route, commissioned in 1960, was between Swartz Bay, north of Sidney on Vancouver Island, and Tsawwassen, a part of Delta, using just two vessels. These ships were the now-retired MV Tsawwassen and the MV Sidney. The next few years saw a dramatic growth of the B.C. ferry system as it took over operations of the Black Ball Line and other major private companies providing vehicle ferry service between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. As the ferry system expanded and started to service other small coastal communities, BC Ferries had to build more vessels, many of them in the first five years of its operations, to keep up with the demand. Another method of satisfying increasing demand for service was BC Ferries' unique "stretch and lift" program, involving seven vessels being cut in half and extended, and five of those vessels later cut in half again and elevated, to increase their passenger and vehicle-carrying capacities. The vast majority of the vessels in the fleet were built in B.C. waters, with only two foreign purchases and one domestic purchase. In the mid-1980s, BC Ferries took over the operations of the saltwater branch of the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Highways, which ran ferry services to very small coastal communities. This action dramatically increased the size of BC Ferries' fleet and its geographical service area. The distinctive "dogwood on green" flag that BC Ferries used between 1960 and 2003 gave the service its popular nickname "the Dogwood Fleet".

At its inception, BC Ferries was a division of the British Columbia Toll Highways and Bridges Authority, a provincial Crown corporation. Through successive reorganizations, it evolved into the British Columbia Ferry Authority and then the British Columbia Ferry Corporation, both of which were also provincial Crown corporations. In 2003, the Government of British Columbia announced that BC Ferries, which had been in debt, would be reorganized into a private corporation, implemented through the passage of the Coastal Ferry Act (Bill 18-2003). The single voting share of BC Ferries Corporation is held by the provincial government's BC Ferry Authority, which operates under the rules of the Act.

During the 1990s, the NDP government commissioned a series of three fast ferries to improve ferry service between the Mainland and Vancouver Island. The ships proved problematic when they suffered many technical issues and cost double what was expected. The fast ferries were eventually sold off for $19.4 million in 2003.

A controversy began in July 2004 when BC Ferries, under a new American CEO, announced that the company had disqualified all Canadian bids to build three new Coastal class ships, and only the proposals from European shipyards were being considered. The contract was estimated at $542 million for the three ships, each designed to carry 370 vehicles and 1600 passengers.

The argument for domestic construction of the ferries was that it would employ numerous British Columbia workers, revitalize the sagging B.C. shipbuilding industry, and entitle the provincial government to a large portion of the cost in the form of taxes. BC Ferries CEO David Hahn claimed that building the ferries in Germany would "save almost $80 million and could lead to lower fares."

On September 17, 2004, BC Ferries awarded the vessel construction contract to Germany's Flensburger shipyard. The contract protected BC Ferries from any delays through a fixed price and fixed schedule contract. Coastal Renaissance entered service in March 2008, while Coastal Inspiration was delivered the same month and entered service in June. The third ship, Coastal Celebration, has been delivered and is now in service as well.

On August 18, 2006, BC Ferries commissioned Flensburger to build a new vessel for its Inside Passage route, with the contract having many of the same types of terms as that for the Coastal Class vessels. The new northern service vessel, Northern Expedition, has been delivered.

In fiscal year 2011, BC Ferries reported a loss of $16.5 million due to declining ridership, with vehicle traffic dropping 3.5% and passenger traffic dropping 2.8%. Increased fares were to blame for the drop in ridership, and warnings came that there would likely be cutbacks in the service on a number of its routes in order to reduce costs.

On August 26, 2012, BC Ferries announced that it would be cutting 98 round trips on its major routes starting in the fall and winter of 2012 as part of a four-year plan to save $1 million on these routes. Service cuts have included the elimination of supplementary sailings on the Swartz Bay–Tsawwassen route, 18 round trips on the Horseshoe Bay–Departure Bay route, and 48 round trips, the largest number of cuts, on the Duke Point–Tsawwassen route, with plans to look for savings on the smaller unprofitable routes in the future.

On November 20, 2012, BC Ferry Services was listed as the 90th most profitable company in BC, with a net income of $3,781,000 in 2011 and $3,422,000 in 2010.

A year later, on November 20, 2013, the government of British Columbia announced plans to eliminate a program that gave free ferry trips to seniors, make major cuts to service on smaller, more remote routes, and undertake a pilot project that would introduce slot machines on ships serving the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay route.

In the fall of 2014, BC Ferries announced the addition of three new Intermediate-class ferries to phase out Queen of Burnaby and Queen of Nanaimo. These three vessels were to be named the Salish Class; Salish Orca, Salish Eagle and Salish Raven. They were designed and built by Remontowa Shipbuilding S.A. in Gdansk, Poland, and are dual-fuel, capable of operating on liquefied natural gas and marine diesel. These vessels are a part of BC Ferries standardized fleet plan, which will take the number of ship class in the BC Ferries fleet from 17 to 5. BC Ferries has stated that total standardization of the BC Ferries fleet will not be complete for another 40 years.

Current routes

Patronage

Route numbers are used internally by BC Ferries. All routes except Route 13 and the Lasqueti Island route allow vehicles.

  • Route 1 – Georgia Strait South (Highway 17): Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen
  • Route 2 – Georgia Strait Central (Highway 1): Nanaimo (via Departure Bay) to Horseshoe Bay
  • Route 3 – Howe Sound: Langdale to Horseshoe Bay
  • Route 8 – Queen Charlotte Channel: Horseshoe Bay to Bowen Island (via Snug Cove)
  • Route 13 – Thornbrough Channel: Langdale to Gambier Island (via New Brighton) and Keats Island (via Keats Landing and Eastbourne). (Foot passengers only, no vehicles). (Operated by Kona Winds Yacht Charters Ltd.)
  • Route 17 – Georgia Strait North: Powell River (via Westview) to Comox (via Little River)
  • Route 20 – North Stuart Channel: Chemainus to Thetis and Penelakut Islands
  • Route 28 – Discovery Coast: Port Hardy to Bella Coola (Commenced summer 2018)
  • Route 30 – Mid-Island Express (Highway 19): Nanaimo (via Duke Point to Tsawwassen)
  • Route 55 – Georgia Strait North-Central: French Creek to Lasqueti Island (via False Bay). (Foot passengers only, no vehicles) (Operated by Western Pacific Marine).

Maps

Numbers in blue circles are ferry route numbers. Provincial highway trailblazers are added where appropriate.

Fleet

BC Ferries has the largest fleet of vehicle ferry vessels in the world. There are 36 vessels, ranging from small 16-car ferries up to 470-car superferries. All of the vessels in use by BC Ferries are roll-on, roll-off car ferries. Most of the major vessels are based on similar designs, which are aggregated into classes of ferries:

Current vessels

Name Class Year built
(Rebuilt)
Auto capacity Passenger capacity Notes Route(s) Photo
MV Island Aurora Island 2017-2019 47 300 Hybrid diesel-electric; In service 25
MV Island Discovery Island 2017-2019 47 300 Hybrid diesel-electric; In service 18 BC Ferry Island Discovery.jpg
MV Spirit of British Columbia Spirit 1993 (2017 - 2018) 358 2100 *Convert to marine diesel and LNG in 2017 to 2018. 1
MV Spirit of Vancouver Island Spirit 1994 (2018 - 2019) 358 2100 *Convert to marine diesel and LNG in 2018 1
Spirit of Vancouver Island.jpg
MV Coastal Renaissance Coastal 2007 310 1650 World's largest double-ended ferries, Made in Germany 1 & 2
Ferry Coastal Renaissance at Departure Bay.jpg
MV Coastal Inspiration Coastal 2007 310 1650 World's largest double-ended ferries, Made in Germany 30
MV Coastal Celebration Coastal 2007 310 1650 World's largest double-ended ferries, Made in Germany 1
MV Queen of Coquitlam C 1976 (2003) 316 1470 2 & 3
Coquitlam Approaching HB.JPG
MV Queen of Cowichan C 1976 (2004) 312 1494 Photo 2 & 3
Cowichan Approaching HB.JPG
MV Queen of Alberni C 1976 (1984/ 2007) 280 1200 Upper car deck added in 1984 30
Alberni Outbound Duke Pt.JPG
MV Queen of Oak Bay C 1981 (2005) 308 1466 2
BC Ferry Queen of Oak Bay.jpg
MV Queen of Surrey C 1981 (2006) 308 1466 2 & 3
Surrey Approaching HB.JPG
MV Queen of New Westminster None 1964 (1973/ 1991/ 2009) 254 1332 Originally a V-class ferry when built 1 New West in Active Pass.JPG
MV Salish Orca Salish 2016 138 600 entered service May 16, 2017 17 BC Ferry Salish Orca.jpg
MV Salish Eagle Salish 2016 138 600 entered service summer 2017 9
Salish Eagle b.jpg
MV Salish Raven Salish 2016 138 600 entered service on July 27, 2017 9
2018-08-26 SALISH RAVEN - IMO 9750294.jpg
MV Northern Expedition None 2009 115 600 10, 10 Supplemental, 11, 26, & 28
MV Northern Adventure None 2004 87 600 Purchased in late-2006 to replace the sunken Queen of the North 10, 10 Supplemental, 11, 26, & 28
MV Northern Adventure.jpg
MV Queen of Capilano I 1991 (2015) 100 462 Auto Capacity increased from 85 in 2015. 8
Queen of Capilano -d.jpg
MV Queen of Cumberland I 1992 (2016) 112 462 5
Queen of Cumberland in Active Pass.jpg
MV Malaspina Sky I 2008 112 450 7 & 17
Island Sky approaching Saltery Bay.JPG
MV Skeena Queen Century 1997 92 600 4
M-V Skeena Queen.jpg
MV Powell River Queen Powell River 1965 (1979) 59 408 Stretched in 1979 to increase capacity 23
BC Ferry Powell River Queen viewed from side.jpg
MV Mayne Queen Powell River 1965 (1979) 58 400 Stretched in 1979 to increase capacity 9 Mayne Queen.jpg
MV Bowen Queen Powell River 1965 (1979) 61 400 Stretched in 1979 to increase capacity 9
Bowen Queen in bound from the Gulf Islands - seen just off of Tsawwassen Terminal - 3 July 2011.jpg
MV Quinitsa None 1977 (2008) 44 394 Transferred to BC Ferries in 1985 6
BC Ferry Quinitsa cropped.jpg
MV Baynes Sound Connector None 2015 45 150 First and only cable ferry owned by BC Ferries. 21
Baynes Sound Connector.JPG
MV Quinsam Q 1982 (2010) 63 400 Transferred to BC Ferries in 1985 19
MV Quinsam.jpg
MV Quadra Queen II T 1969 (2010) 26 293 Transferred to BC Ferries in 1985 Relief Vessel
Quadra Queen II drydocked 2008.jpg
MV Tachek T 1969 (2011) 26 243 Transferred to BC Ferries in 1985 24
Ferry of BC Ferries serving Quadra and Cortes islands.jpg
MV Klitsa K 1972 19 195 Transferred to BC Ferries in 1985 12
MV Klitsa on First Day of Service (Replaced MV Mill Bay) - panoramio.jpg
MV Kahloke K 1973 21 200 Transferred to BC Ferries in 1985 22
MV Kwuna K 1975 16 154 Transferred to BC Ferries in 1985 26
MV Kuper K 1985 (2006) 26 269 Purchased in 2006 20
BC Ferry MV Kuper 02.jpg
MV Nicola (also known as Spirit of Lax Kw' alaams) N 1960 16 133 Transferred to BC Ferries in 1985
Owned by but not operated by BC Ferries
Unnumbered Route (Operated by the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation community).
Nicola PR Harbour.jpg
MV Nimpkish N 1973 12 125 Transferred to BC Ferries in 1985 28
2017-06-27 Bella Bella (36284502403).jpg
MV Northern Sea Wolf None 2000 35 150 Purchased in 2017 28
MV Northern Sea Wolf.jpg
MV Stormaway III None n/k 0 40 Owned and operated by Kona Winds Yacht Charters Limited, under the sponsorship of and out of the Langdale terminal of BC Ferries. 13 (Operated by Kona Winds Yacht Charters Ltd).
MV Stormaway IV None n/k 0 40 Owned and operated by Kona Winds Yacht Charters Limited, under the sponsorship of and out of the Langdale terminal of BC Ferries. 13 (Operated by Kona Winds Yacht Charters Ltd).
Passengers-only Ferry (9057204225).jpg
MV Centurion VII None n/k 0 60 Owned and operated by Western Pacific Marine, under the sponsorship of BC Ferries, and out of Western Pacific Marine's French Creek Terminal. 55 (Operated by Pacific Western Marine).
Centurion VII - small.jpg

Former vessels

  • List of retired BC Ferries ships
  • PacifiCat-class ferry

Future vessels

In 2019, BC started a $200 million program to acquire four hybrid/electric ferries (800 kWh each) to service three routes.

In film

Film Year Vessel or Class
Five Easy Pieces 1970 Mill Bay
Food of the Gods 1976 Howe Sound Queen
The Other Side of the Mountain 1978 Queen of Victoria
Shoot To Kill 1988 Queen of Vancouver
Bird On A Wire 1990 Queen of Burnaby or Queen of Nanaimo
Another Stakeout 1993 Powell River Class
Mr. Magoo 1997 Queen of Esquimalt
Disturbing Behavior 1998 Queen of Capilano
Double Jeopardy 1999 Quadra Queen II
Black Point 2002 Mill Bay
Scary Movie 3 2003 Powell River Class
Battlestar Galactica miniseries 2003 V-Class
Walking Tall 2004 Albert J Savoie
Elektra 2005 Albert J Savoie
The Mermaid Chair 2006 Mill Bay
The Suite Life Movie 2011 Northern Expedition
The Killing 2012 Queen of Capilano
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