Changes to B.C. Ferries operations are just around the corner.
Mark Collins, president and chief executive officer for B.C. Ferries, said the company is planning on introducing a brand-new website as soon as the fall, and a new reservation system that includes flexible fare pricing within the next 18 to 24 months.
“We are on the cusp of a new website, a new mobile application and we are on the cusp of a new reservation system that will be considerably more flexible,” Collins said.
Collins made the comments following a presentation to members of the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday at the Coast Bastion Hotel, where he provided an update on B.C. Ferries. He said the corporation’s new reservation system will follow a model similar to what airlines and train use that would allow customers to change their reservations without penalty.
“We need to make that convenient for you with no extra fees or charges because it is what you bought,” he said.
The new reservation system will only apply to B.C. Ferries’ major routes, which include Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay and Duke Point to Tsawwassen. Collins said under the new system, reservation fees will be a thing of the past.
“For the major routes, we see reservation fees going away and becoming part of the base fare,” he said.
B.C. Ferries has been working on IT improvements for years, but customers wouldn’t have noticed because the changes have largely been internal, according to Collins, who said the first elements of their reservation system and a new customer relationship management system went live internally about three weeks ago.
“In the last five years we have spent probably close to $400 million on IT systems,” he said. “Much of it is in the background.”
Collins said a new and improved website along with a mobile app could be ready by as early as the fall but the reservation system won’t be introduced for at least a year and a half. He said B.C. Ferries wants to avoid rolling out a system that is broken.
“We are not into the Phoenix pay system problem here … we want people to be happy from day one,” he said.
Speaking to the News Bulletin afterward, Collins explained that under the new reservation system customers will be able to pay for their reservation in advance. He said there will be multiple ways for customers to save money under the new system, adding that those who book in advance will find lower fares than those who wait until the last minute.
“You should see multiple choices for the same sailing. If you want the ability to change your reservation, it is one fee and if you’re happy to forgo flexibility and you want to lock in, you can get a lower price,” he said. “If you book in advance, say three weeks ahead versus three days ahead you will get a lower price.”
Collins said switching to the new system will improve efficiency as it will allow B.C. Ferries to better plan and prepare sailings. He said the new system should also alleviate some of the congestion at terminals such as Departure Bay, where traffic can be backed up along Stewart Avenue during peak season.
“When I think about neighbourhoods like Brechin Hill and the businesses along Stewart Avenue, where they have to endure these traffic lineups, that could be a thing of the past under this system because people will only go to the terminal when they have a reservation.”