OWEN SOUND—With the unsure economic climate and continued declining ridership over the past several years, the Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC) is hoping that through an assessment it can determine why ridership is decreasing and take measures to increase the number of passengers using the service. As for this year’s sailing schedule between Tobermory and South Baymouth, rates to use the service will remain status quo, at least at the beginning of the 2012 sailing season.
“Our new schedule indicates we are starting the season with the same 2011 fare structure,” said Susan Schrempf, general manager of the OSTC, in an interview with the Recorder last week. “In today’s economic climate, this has to remain flexible to reflect, for instance, fuel prices increasing, so we are not saying the rates will remain the same for the entire season. We have put a caveat on the schedule that the rates are subject to change without notice.”
“So basically we are starting the 2012 season with the rates charged in 2011 remaining the same, but it does not mean they may not change at some point during the season,” Ms. Schrempf continued, “and we are saying the fares being charged are based on the day a reservation is made, not the date a person will use the service.”
Ms. Schrempf did not rule out an increase occurring. “As this is a seasonal service being provided, we may see, as what occurred a few years ago, the rates had to be raised increased in August during the sailing season.”
Ms. Schrempf said the OSTC, “will be investigating why the numbers of passengers and traffic on the ferry has been decreasing. I know we hear people say it is so expensive, but across the country, I know in one case on the west coast three ferries take people back and forth from two islands—it is the only way to get on and off the island and the service is free, but still they have also seen a decline in ridership.”
“We are trying to keep our fares as low as we can, but at some point it will hit the breaking point,” stated Ms. Schrempf. She explained ferry passenger traffic on the Chi-Cheemaun went down about five percent in 2011, which compounded with the same decrease the year before. “We have seen a steady decline in the past four years. In fact, passenger numbers have decreased 15 percent over those four years. This in turn means a huge difference to our service.”
Ms. Schrempf explained the OSTC, “wants to do a full market assessment on ridership and all potential customers. We want to focus on talking to people that don’t use the ferry, whether it is a cost or time issue, whether the ferry is just not on their travel routes, or if, for instance, people are not using the ferry because they are traveling by vehicle on Highway 69 with all the improvements and four laning which has been carried out the past few years.”
“We have never done a proper market assessment of the ferry,” continued Ms. Schrempf. “We need to look at everything: where our market is for the ferry, what the customer needs are and how we need to change to meet the market.” She noted this assessment is all part of the OSTC business plan, and this assessment will need to be approved by the province before they can hire a firm to have the assessment carried out.
The 2012 Chi-Cheemaun ferry season will begin on May 4, with the first sailing between Tobermory and South Baymouth, and remain in service for the season until October 14.