Five Minutes with Mark Collins, New CEO of BC Ferries

Mark Collins is not a new face at BC Ferries. When it was announced he was taking over from Mike Corrigan as CEO and president, Collins was serving as vice-president of strategic planning and community engagement — and before that he was vice-president of engineering.

“I’ve been with the company for 12 years, so I’ve travelled with the system a lot,” Collins says. “But this is a new role for me and it’s a new lens for me to look at things through.”

Collins plans on travelling extensively on BC Ferries this summer, riding every route and visiting every terminal, to meet with customers, front-line staff and the 13 ferry advisory committees along the coast.

“I’ll be out really trying to get a feel for the business so we can begin to craft a longer-term vision,” Collins says.

What’s the biggest challenge facing you right now?
This summer has the opportunity to be one of the biggest tourist seasons in recent years for Vancouver Island — and there is the possibility we could break our all-time traffic volume. In the short term, my immediate challenge is making sure we are ready to deliver a great customer experience this summer.

How does BC Ferries find a balance between being a tourism operator and a vital service for residents?
I don’t see that a balance is required. I see them as one and the same thing. By providing a great service to the residents of British Columbia, we are providing a great service to the tourism operators, and a great experience for visitors to B.C.

What can customers expect for fares?
We recognize there has been a pattern of fare increases up until the year past. This year, we’ve largely held fares the same and we’ve even reduced the cost of travel when you roll in things like reservation fees.

We’re working hard to increase the value for money that people perceive they get from BC Ferries and we’re doing that through internal efficiencies and trying new and innovative ways that we can deliver services to our customers.

What initiatives are you working on?
Right now, we’re working hard on our IT platform. We’ve spent much of the past 10 to 12 years working on our physical assets, the ships and terminals, to bring those up to scratch, and invested a lot there. Now we’re investing in our information technology.

Our platforms today date from the 90s and they’re not as flexible as they need to be in this modern mobile environment. This will allow us to enable more fare options. We’re looking more at time-of-day pricing and time-of-week pricing.

Where do you look for innovation?
We’re very active on a global front on studying other ferry services and other transportation industries, including airlines and train and bus services. … For example, flexible fares by time of day or day of week is a fairly common feature in Europe, whereas it’s relatively unusual in North America. But we know that airlines in North America have adopted it for good reasons, so we need to look at it and how we bring it into the ferry environment in North America.

What feedback do you expect on your summer rounds?
Call me biased, but I think our service is pretty reliable. But there are always areas where we can do better. I expect on the Sunshine Coast they will tell us our service to Horseshoe Bay is not sufficiently reliable in terms of on-time performance and they are right. … In other parts of the network, people are feeling that they would like to see more service, and in other parts, they would like to see a longer service day

…These are things we’ve heard before but it’s important to get out there and listen and refresh our knowledge. Things change in communities, and we want to stay on top of the latest thinking.