BC Ferries plans off-peak travel discounts and airline-style booking system

VICTORIA – BC Ferries says its customers should be able to reserve trips like they would book airline tickets and hotel rooms and receive discounted fares online at off-peak travel times.

Company president Mike Corrigan said Wednesday that the service has submitted a plan to BC Ferry Commissioner Gord Macatee as part of a cost-cutting operation to reduce the pressure on potential fare increases.

He said the Fare Flexibility and Digital Experience Initiative will modernize how BC Ferries sets prices, markets travel, manages loads and discounts fares at off-peak travel times through e-commerce and information-and-technology upgrades.

Corrigan said fare discounts haven’t been determined, but the current reservation-fee system will be dropped for customers who book online, while travellers who arrive at the ferry terminal without booking will pay more.

“When people book, the beauty will be they have certainty of travel,” Corrigan said. “They will go online, they will plan, book and pay online and when they show up at the ferry terminal it will just be confirmation that they’ve done so and they will travel aboard the ferry.”

Currently, ferry customers arrive at terminals and wait in line to pay with cash or credit cards. Customers who purchase a reservation prior to arrival are placed in a separate line where they are guaranteed a spot on a specific ferry sailing.

“We actually want to reverse that model and do what other companies are doing and basically have everybody pre-pay,” said Corrigan.

“Some airlines and other companies have 95 per cent to 98 per cent of their transactions paid for before their customers even show up. That’s where we want to get to.”

He said the plan, which won’t be ready until 2017, will cost up to $15 million to implement but could be paid off within three years because traffic is expected to increase by up to five per cent.

Macatee must approve the plan.

BC Ferries is currently undergoing an efficiency plan to cut $54 million in costs in an effort to keep fare increases in check.