BC Ferries plans to move ahead with a website upgrade that will allow passengers to pay for tickets online, avoid reservation fees and pay variable fares depending on demand.
The computer upgrade is to be phased in starting in 2017, with a pilot project for passengers on the main Vancouver-Vancouver Island runs. The system will offer discounted fares for off-peak sailings and advance booking without the current reservation fees.
BC Ferries CEO Mike Corrigan said the project will cost $10-15 million, but based on the experience of other systems, it will increase ridership and reduce costs.
"It's a variable priced booking system that's used by golf courses, hotels, airlines," Corrigan said. "It's the way the world is moving. Depending how far in advance you book, what restrictions you're willing to put on yourself, and when you want to play, stay or travel, you're going to get a different price."
The price range will be determined by the pilot projects. Passengers will still have the option of showing up at the terminal and paying to board, with a posted price that will be adjusted according to demand for that sailing.
The new booking system was proposed two years ago in a review of ferry operations by Gord Macatee, who reviewed operations when he was appointed BC Ferries Commissioner in charge of rates and service delivery. Macatee must approve the move before it can go ahead.
BC Ferries' point-of-sale system is 25 years old, and requires manual collection of fares.
BC Ferries projects the new system will increase vehicle and passenger traffic by three to five per cent as it is extended to more routes. By adding food, gift shop and other services to the online order system, the corporation hopes to generate an annual revenue increase of $11 million to $18 million, mostly due to increased traffic.
"People can actually pay for the full ferry service, including the buffet maybe, and some other services when they pay, so when they get to the ferry terminal, they're basically just verifying their purchase and moving onboard the vessel," Corrigan said.
BC Ferries is inviting public comment on its proposal until the end of December.