Friday, September 22, 2006

What! No Surcharge On The Surcharge?


Remember when Keith Baldrey went all a-googly after BC Ferries Chairman David Hahn wrapped the cord around him, yanked it hard, and started him spinning like a top the very night that the Queen of the North sank?

"Early last Wednesday morning - just after 2 a.m. - my home phone rang. That's usually a reason for concern - the first thing that springs to mind is a family emergency somewhere. But this call was about another kind of emergency.

"Keith, it's Dave Hahn. Sorry about the early call, but I thought you should know. One of our vessels has just gone down north of Vancouver Island. I'm trying to get an update on the passengers. I'll keep you informed, but I thought you might want to get going on this."

It was a startling phone call, to say the least. Startling because the ferry had only sunk about an hour before, startling because of the potential magnitude of the ferry disaster, and startling because of the forthrightness of the man who runs BC Ferries.

Mr. Hahn and I talked several more times in the early hours of that morning. He would phone with updates - the most important of which was about the state of the passengers - and try to provide as much information as possible.

As the morning went on, he started appearing seemingly everywhere - one minute on CKNW, the next moment on CBC Radio, the next on Global TV. BC Ferries had hastily chartered a plane to fly Mr. Hahn and Premier Gordon Campbell to Prince Rupert to meet the Queen of the North's passengers. He invited me and a Global cameraman to accompany them......


It's a refreshing approach from the head of a large company, and one that I suspect resonates well with the general public."

Well, I wonder if Mr. Hahn arranged for a plane to fly Mr. Baldrey up to his summer place so they can spend the weekend discussing this:

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) - You may be enjoying the lower pump prices when you go to fill up your car, but don't expect BC Ferries to drop its fuel surcharge.

Despite reporting a surplus earlier this month, the corporation says it is carrying a fuel deficit. CEO and president David Hahn says the it is because the company initially waited too long to apply for relief from the BC Ferry Commission. He told a small audience at the corporation's annual general meeting that in hindsight the company should have applied for surcharges as early as late 2004, but banked on rising fuel costs dropping back to historic levels.

Now BC Ferries is facing a $21 million deficit fuel account, which Hahn said must be paid down before surcharges can be reduced. Earlier this month the company released its fiscal report that showed overall profits are up to nearly $15 million while fewer people are taking the ferries

So, which is it?

Do we have a surplus or a deficit at BC Ferries, or what?

Because, so far the biggest ballyhoo, especially from the spun media in this province, has been on the surplus side.

And just how is BC Ferries making more money when fewer people are taking the Ferries in the apparent absence of significant rate increases?

Could it have something to do with those egregious 'reservation' fees of $35 a trip on the major routes that are not considered to be part of the 'fare'?



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