B.C. Ferries CEO Mike Corrigan has handed in his notice with the corporation more buoyant than when he took charge five years ago. Corrigan, 55, president and chief executive officer of B.C. Ferries, will step down effective March 31, 2017 when his contract runs out. An executive search has already begun and will look at potential candidates from inside and outside of the corporation.

The announcement came Friday at the annual public meeting. B.C. Ferries board chairman, Donald Hayes made the news public and expressed appreciation for the lengthy notice given by Corrigan.

His notice comes at a time when corporate revenues are up, 4.9 per cent so far this year. Passengers have increased. Fares meanwhile have remained steady so far this year and future plans are to cap any future increases at a yearly 1.9 per cent until 2020.

The first of three new ships, still being built in Poland, are is to be delivered this fall. The price will be $206 million compared to the original budget of $252 million, thanks to some successful lobbying to convince the federal government to waive $46 million in import taxes.

The three new ships will also all be first in the fleet to run on natural gas, an innovation that will reduce fuel costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And plans are underway to convert some existing ships to natural gas.

B.C. Ferries also introduced another fleet first this year, a cable ferry to Denman Island. Again, the new service is expected to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Corrigan also oversaw the introduction of the drop-trailer service in 2009. Transport trucks can drop their trailers on a ferry to be picked up by a another tractor on the other side.

Also on his watch, executive pay (something for which his predecessor earned heavy criticism) dropped, $3 million in 2009 to $1.8 million by 2014.

But for him, Corrigan said his proudest achievement with the corporation is it’s improved safety performance, which he took from good to one of the best in the world.

“We have much safer operation today than we have ever had before,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’s good for the employees and it’s good for the passengers.”

Corrigan said the biggest challenge facing his successor will be the continued replacement of the fleet.

“We are still fighting the challenge of having older vessels than we should have,” he said.

Corrigan first joined B.C. Ferries in 2003 coming from the energy industry. His educational background was in business. And he paid for school with a minor pro-hockey career. As a junior player he even played on a line with Dale Hawerchuk, the finest player he ever teamed with, and won the Memorial Cup in 1980.

He rose steadily in B.C. Ferries and in 2006, nine days after the sinking of the Queen of the North, he was made chief operating officer, a post he held when he was made president.

Corrigan said he was unsure of what his next job will be but said he was exploring several options.

“But I can’t see myself running a complex, major transportation company again,” he said. “I think I will look for something that gives me more flexibility.”

As news spread of his upcoming departure Corrigan’s performance received widespread admiration.

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone praised Corrigan for his hard work, his willingness to innovate and his commitment to corporate safety.

“I have appreciated Mike’s leadership and have developed a tremendous amount of respect for him,” said Stone in a statement.

New Democrat Transport Critic Claire Trevena, on the other hand, agreed Corrigan was an effective CEO at meeting the B.C. Ferries contract with the provincial government.

But Trevena saved her criticisms for Stone and the Liberal government for not investing in the ferry service and allowing fares to increase over the past 15 years.

“It’s as essential service and if he (Corrigan) recognizes that then the government should recognize that and make the investments,” she said.

Graeme Johnston, president of the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers Union, gave Corrigan credit for a strong commitment to on-the-job safety and honourable dealings.

“In his dealings with the union Mike was always classy, dignified and fair.” said Johnston.