While ongoing and accelerating struggles at BC Ferries (BCF) to provide transportation links to the province's coastal communities are well documented, the corporation has released details on where its customers report disappointment with service levels most often. “Passengers travelling on Route 3 are the least satisfied” according to BC Ferries’ annual report to the British Columbia Ferries Commissioner for the year ending March 31, 2023.
That report dated July 27 and posted to the commissioner’s website, showed the Langdale to Horseshoe Bay run was ranked at 3.69 out of five by its clients. That was the lowest satisfaction level of the eight major and minor routes surveyed and showed “the most marked reduction in overall customer satisfaction score since last year” according to the report.
The average “overall satisfaction” rankings for all routes surveyed was four out of five, with the Nanaimo to Gabriola Island service scoring the highest rating at 4.25. In addition to Route 3, customer satisfaction tracking was conducted on major routes 1 (Swartz Bay/Tsawwassen), 2 (Departure Bay/Horseshoe Bay) and 30 (Duke Point/Tsawwassen) and minor routes 4, 5/9 and 10.
Route 3 ranked lowest in multiple categories
Bottom of the batch customer rankings were recorded for Route 3 terminals. Langdale scored the lowest at 3.68 and Horseshoe Bay was next at 3.85 out of five. Between 2021 and 2022, Langdale’s ranking saw the largest drop of .19, closely followed by Horseshoe Bay which went down .15 when compared to the previous year. The report did not go into detail on rankings for infrastructure at each terminal but noted “passenger satisfaction has decreased across nearly all measures, compared to 2021. Washrooms showed the biggest drop in score when compared to the 2021 average".
On board services on Route 3 ships came in last when compared to customer ratings for other routes. With a 3.99 out of five ranking, it was the only one surveyed that customers ranked below a 4. That rating saw the highest decline between 2021 and 2022 levels, dipping .15 out of four. The rating of other runs in the survey climbed by as much as .35 over that period.
Route 3 also lost the most ground in terms of customer ratings on value for money between 2021 and 2022. That ranking went from a 3.55 to a 3.4 out of five. That put the service to and from the lower Sunshine Coast with the second poorest 2022 value ranking, just behind the Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay route which scored a 3.36. None of the routes surveyed reached rankings of four out of five.
The report summed up BCF’s customers views on value for money with the statement “Overall, 57 per cent of passengers stated that they were satisfied with value for money of fares."
Ontime performance, overloads and cancellations
For all routes surveyed, the report detailed that “passenger assessments of whether the ferry was running on time were considerably lower this year compared to last." In 2022, rankings for that measure were at their lowest in five years, the report stated.
BCF's data reported that for Route 3, 73.5 per cent of sailings departed within 10 minutes of scheduled sailing time in 2022. That rate went down from 74.6 per cent the year before and 83.7 per cent in 2020. System-wide most routes suffered similar late departure rates.
The corporation's assessment was that, “On-time year-to-date performance decreased primarily as a result of delays due to the impact of increased traffic demand and being unsuccessful in securing the required crew on some sailings."
Route 3 had the lowest percentage of overloaded sailings for major routes in the reporting period at 31.3 per cent. Sailings between the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island experienced overload rates, with customers left in parking lots until the next sailing, of as high as 58.5 per cent.
Of the major routes, the Langdale/Horseshoe Bay run saw the fewest cancellations of "required" round trips during the reporting period, at .5. The highest number reported for that measure of 43.5 was experienced on the Horseshoe Bay/Departure Bay route.
The document's revelations on customer opinions likely do not come as much of a surprise to the 4,050 members of the Facebook group Sunshine Coast BC Ferries Complaints. With the filing of the report, they are on record with the independent regulator charged with making decisions in the best interest of the public, to balance the needs of all stakeholders and to hold the ferry service accountable.