Private ferry operator decries Crown Corp. competition

NANAIMO, B.C. — A 104-year-old cargo ferry service off the coast of B.C. is fretting that subsidized Crown Corporation B.C. Ferries could ‘unfairly’ sink its business.

As reported last weekend by the Nanaimo Daily News, Seaspan Coastal Intermodal’s Adrian Samuel says B.C. Ferries will have an unfair advantage if it decides to continue its competing pilot "drop off" service, ferrying truck trailers between the Mainland and Vancouver Island.

According to Seaspan’s website, the company operates four roll-on-off ferries that transport loaded trucks, trailers and railcars between terminals on the Mainland at Tilbury in Delta and on the Island at downtown Nanaimo and Victoria.

BC Ferries spokeswomen Deborah Marshall told the paper that the Crown corporation is considering making its own service permanent on the Tsawwassen-Duke Point and the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay routes, but is waiting on feedback from trucking companies before proceeding.

Similar to Seaspan’s operation, drivers are able to drop off the trailers at the terminal — hence the description as a "drop" service (it’s actually a roll-on-off operation).

Private operator Seaspan says BC Ferries’
offering of drop off service creates an unfair
playing field (image from Seaspan Coastal).

Drivers can leave for other deliveries while BC Ferries-leased shunt tractors take the trailers onboard the vessel. Marshall says the company would consider buying more trucks if the business plan makes sense.

Seaspan’s Adrian Samuel says BC Ferries undermines the "playing field" because it’s government subsidized. (The company is funded to the tune of B.C. $106 million a year, according to the paper).

He says it’s unfair that his company and other independent players in the region don’t enjoy similar benefits while competing on the same lanes.

That said, he isn’t surprised by BC Ferries’ plans. "We have heard rumors of B.C. Ferry Services entering this business for years," he was quoted as saying by the Daily News. "We have linked the Island and Mainland with a ferry service as a private, non-subsidized company since 1903, and have been actively engaged in the drop-trailer service since the ’60s."

In a follow-up interview with this morning, Marshall explained that the company only receives funding for certain non-profit passenger routes. The two roll-on-off routes in this case are not at all subsidized, although some argue that any subsidy allows the service to spread its resources around much easier than a private company could.


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