Our Focus Is On Changing For You

by Don Barnes, Vice President of Customer Experience

Marine Atlantic operates in the North Atlantic ocean, a very challenging environment, especially during difficult weather conditions. For decades, our crews and passengers have experienced strong winds, severe sea conditions and heavy ice that have impacted our schedule, especially during the period from late fall to early spring. This year is no different with numerous storm systems (8 in the past 5 weeks alone) having affected both Newfoundland and Labrador and Cape Breton.

Over the years pretty much everything related to our service, with the exception of remaining a vital transportation link, has changed – from the fleet to our approach to customer service to our customers themselves. Nothing ever stays the same and we have been changing over the years to recognize and adapt to new technologies, customer preferences and marine standards. From the SS Bruce’s first crossing in 1898, we have evolved continuously for 117 years.

Introducing changes and improvements to our service has always resulted in feedback. When the MV William Carson was introduced, people raised concerns that it was not suited to our ports. When the MV Caribou was introduced, the same complaints were raised. Today, we are receiving inquiries as to whether our new fleet is the right fit and whether different vessels would improve our ability to sail during periods of adverse weather. This type of debate is not new to Marine Atlantic and demonstrates our importance as a service. To fully understand how our new fleet operates, and why our current vessels are providing a better customer experience, it is important to look at some of the other changes that have happened over the past few years.

Our decision to sail or not sail

Up until a few years ago, our philosophy was to not ‘cancel’ a sailing. On occasions when we experienced a weather or mechanical delay, we notified our customers in the parking lot of a delay. Sometimes the delay could extend beyond 24 hours, providing significant challenges for customers who needed to decide where they would await the departure of the vessel, return home, or go to a hotel. In the case of our commercial customers, they needed to decide to wait or make the drive back to their regional distribution centre.

Other times, we opted to depart port but wind speeds/direction prevented the vessel from docking for many hours. During this time, our vessels would take ‘shelter’ off our coasts and wait until weather conditions improved enough to dock. This has resulted in sailing times ranging from 8 – 36 hours. During these extended crossings some customers would experience extreme motion sickness, seas states prohibited the serving of meals, excessive fuel burn would take place from a cost and environmental impact and on occasion customer cargo would be damaged. Feedback was very negative following these types of impacts and we decided to change our approach to better serve our customers.

Our commitment to providing you with information

As an organization, our goal is to provide a safe, reliable and efficient ferry service. Our operational decisions today focus on these fundamental goals. First, working closely with our Captains and their bridge teams, we review weather models multiple times daily as we strive to make educated decisions up to 24 hours prior to sailing. With weather patterns evolving and becoming more severe, our goal is to provide our customers with as much advance notice as possible, enabling them to make decisions that work best for their travel situation. In particular, our commercial customers are requesting notification of any potential impact at the earliest possible time so that they can adjust their distribution plans accordingly. The increased use of technology has enabled us to communicate directly to customers via our contact system, post updates to our website and also use social media to spread the word. We are continuously working on ways to further improve the sharing of information in a timely manner.

Today, our approach to the decision to sail provides us with the highest degree of certainty that we will depart port and arrive as per our schedule while providing a reliable service that decreases fuel consumption and our impact on the environment.

OnTimePerformance

Sharing our improvements

Our previous fleet was not positioned to take us into the future. We witnessed decreased reliability, increased costs and reduced satisfaction. Today, with our new fleet we have made significant improvement.

Key indicators

2005

2014

Difference

On time performance (excluding weather)

76%

90%

+18.4%

On time performance (including weather)

71%

85%

+19.7%

Trips

2062

1709

-17.2%

Auto Equivalent Units

505,415

524,988

+3.9%

Fuel burn (L)

40,517,335

33,081,899

-18.3%

Auto Equivalent Units/trip

245

307

+25.3%

 

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In 2005, 42.8% of our customers gave us top marks on their experience, it declined to 32.2% by 2008, and for 2014, with the new fleet, it was 66.9%. We are committed to continuing to improve and make that number higher. As you can see from the statistics, today we move more traffic with fewer trips, better on-time performance, and less fuel.

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Our customer base is shifting

Tourism is an important part of our economy in Newfoundland and Labrador. Marine Atlantic used to transport the vast majority of tourists to this province; however, today, recognizing the value that people place on their personal time, air travel is becoming the first choice of many tourists. Through our research, we know that tourists who choose to travel by road and ferry have certain expectations for their travel experience. Working with the tourism industry, we identified a vision for passengers that included improved amenities (such as more cabins) and increased reliability, something that could not be offered by our former fleet that was experiencing a heightened number of breakdowns and increased operating costs. Today, our largest customer base is the commercial trucking industry, moving goods to and from the Island. Transporting more of these large units than ever before requires larger vessels to maximize our loading and traffic management efficiencies.

Our efforts for recovering after a delay

Recognizing the geographical location in which we operate our service, we will continue to experience weather-related delays regardless of what vessels are in service. Our larger fleet provides a significant advantage over the previous fleet in that it enables us to get back on track so much faster. For instance, in the past when we experienced a delay, our commercial customers would be lined up on the highway for as far as the eye could see. This obstructed local traffic as we did not have capacity in our yards, created safety concerns for local residents, and it would often take upwards of 5 days to recover. Today, thanks to our new fleet we are able to recover in approximately 24 hours. Combined with our efforts to keep in close communication with our commercial customers, these long lineups are a very rare occurrence.

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Continuing our efforts

Change is never easy. We continue to work closely with our employees, customers and stakeholders to evolve our service and position Marine Atlantic for the future. And while there will always be those who question whether we make the right operational decisions, use the right technologies or choose the right vessels, all of our decisions are made to enhance our customers’ experience and optimize our operational abilities. There will be those who highly commend our new vessels’ ability, and there will be those who prefer vessels that were offered in the past. Every vessel that is introduced to our service has been thoroughly tested, evaluated and reviewed by international marine experts for safety and suitability. And as our statistical data proves, our current fleet is more reliable, efficient and provides increased customer satisfaction than previous fleet configurations.