BC Ferries Finally Gets Onboard Wi-Fi

Last year, I was chatting with somebody from BC Ferries, and I asked why they didn’t offer internet access on their ships. I figured the service represented a big, luscious money tree for them.

Consider this math: you convince just 30 passengers per sailing to pay an average of $8 (maybe it’s regularly priced at $10, but there are subscription plans to reduce the price). That’s $240 per sailing. There are about 20 sailings a day on the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay route. That’s $2400 a day. Adjusting for fewer sailings in winter, that’s maybe $750,000 a year, per route.

How much does such a system cost to put in place? Surely not more than $750,000. So that’s easy money–at least $1.5 million a year in new revenue for the two major routes–after the first year.

Here’s another way to look at the math. The ferry system carries 21 million passengers a year. If they can sell wifi access to just 0.05% of those people at $10 a head, they make more than $1 million in revenue a year. That’s back of the envelope math, but I’m intentionally low-balling the numbers.

I was pitching this math to my BC Ferries friend, and they readily admitted (and unintentionally punned), “yeah, we missed the boat on that entirely”.

When we lived in Victoria and traveled to Vancouver nearly every other week, I’d have spent a small fortune on wireless internet access. That is until the iPhone’s tethering feature became available. It was truly a game-changer for my commuting time.

And it’s made BC Ferries’ announcement of free wi-fi on ferries more or less redundant. I’ll have to test drive the speed of their free service later in the summer. What are the odds that it’ll be much faster than tethering with my iPhone?

Manis and Pedis Ain’t Free

I was actually more interested to learn about the new premium services that BC Ferries is offering. I’d missed the announcement of these back in April:

Wireless Internet is the latest in a series of up-scale service announcements for the ferry corporation, which has already created a new travel wing–B.C. Ferries Vacations–as well as in-ship spa service, offering pedicures, manicures and massages. The spa service has been “really well-received by our customers” and will continue on limited runs, Thursday through Monday, on the Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, said Marshall.

A manicure is $30, and a pedicure is $40, but they’re offering wi-fi for free? That’s also a little puzzling. I could see lots of business customers paying (and expensing) the wi-fi.

The cynical traveler might speculate that they’re offering it for free so that they don’t have to guarantee quality of service. Who can complain if they lose a service that they’ve been receiving for free.

Which would you rather pay for on the ferry: wifi or a mani-pedi?


  1. I appreciate the free Wi-Fi; we’ll see how it behaves. A pay service might prevent excessive congestion, even if the amount were nominal, like $2. Perhaps the overhead of setting up an easy-to-use payment system was more effort than it was worth.

    I’d pay for a pedicure, I think, though $40 seems steep.

  2. I think the mani-pedi idea is awesome! I would definitely do that, especially in the summer months.

  3. There is no way in hell I would pay $8 for Internet connection on a BC Ferry. $2 maybe.

    But I’d gladly spend $40 on a pedi. 🙂

  4. Another reason they may be offering it for free: 3G networking is common enough now, and coverage pretty decent for the major crossings, that people might not bother paying for Wi-Fi if they can keep using the 3G service they’re already paying for on their iPhones/BlackBerrys/Androids/iPads/whatever.

    In any case, if the Wi-Fi works well, my family and I will certainly use it on our next ferry trip.

  5. I’ve been doing ferry crossings weekly for the past month. The Wi-fi is going to be EXTREMELY welcome. I’d probably pay up to $3 per crossing for it (90 minutes, $2/hr). The free service is a definite perk, and makes me more willing to take the ferry rather than floatplane. Since I can use the time in transit to work, it’s reclaimed hours for me. Smart move for the ferries.

    I just can’t wrap my mind around a pedi onboard though. Wouldn’t want to ruin the polish rushing down to the car deck.

  6. I’m surprised they are doing it for free. My perception of the ferry is that most sailings are relatively full, and the number of sailings is fixed by the number of ferries both sides can loan/unload. Which means free wifi isn’t really a perk that’s going to get more people on board the ferries.

    At the bare minimum they should have maybe included it as a perk in their paid lounge that they have to get more people in there. They have lots of tables in there anyways, so it’s a better environment to be on your laptop.

    If memory serves me though, there’s a big 3G hole in the middle of the crossing. So, I’d be willing to pay a few bucks probably to have uninterrupted wifi the whole way.

  7. Having a fee incurred for the WiFi AT ALL means that they then have to pay someone to administer it, collect the money and do the accounting/outsource it. Then it becomes a challenge to charge enough to even break even. Having it free means the equipment is an expense and maybe, MAYBE draw some people who would otherwise fly to the island to take the ferry instead, knowing that they could actually do some work while crossing. The big benefit would be no airport security!

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