Student confusion

The FAC has this week contacted School District officials highlighting the conflicting transport information that is being offered to high school students attending NDSS from September.

According to the SD68 website,  plans for early dismissal on Mondays are still going ahead and students will be bussed to Nanaimo Harbour by 2:25pm.  The earliest ferry they can catch will be the 3:50pm, yet the SD68 bus schedule for Gabriola shows the local school bus picking up from the ferry at 3:05pm.

If we receive clarification, we will publish it here.

 

FAC explores next steps with BC Ferries

Ferry Advisory Committee members met representatives of BC Ferries earlier this week to share some of the problems that have beset the latest ferry schedule and to explore how (and when) it will be possible to develop a way forward.

Over recent months, ferry users have faced longer line-ups, frequent overloads and delayed ferries.  Such problems always occur in summer, of course, but this year it’s been evident since early May that things  have been worse than usual.

  • Delays happen for a variety of reasons, but research undertaken by the FAC showed that the major cause of unreliability in the new schedule is the inadequate turn-round time for the ferry at either end of the route. Problems start at around 7am and get progressively worse during the morning.  On the busiest days (Tuesdays and Thursdays) unloading and loading can take 20 minutes or more at both ends of the route; the current schedule allows only 15 minutes. Delays are compounded each time there’s an overload as crew members take time to ensure that every last space on the ferry is utilised.
  • Overloads and longer line-ups have always increased in summer, but the mid-morning service break and the loss of the 2:30 pm departure from Nanaimo have both made the situation worse this year.  Even during May, when traffic starts to build for the summer, the balance of capacity to demand was starting to tip – and by the start of the peak summer schedule, the situation was becoming untenable. Line-ups become longer than ever as drivers arrive for the next scheduled sailing before the previous (late running) ferry has departed.

So, what’s to be done?  That’s yet to be worked out, but we have agreed to work jointly with BC Ferries to develop options that we can take to the community before any decisions are made.  BCF is committed to ensuring there’s adequate time for consultation this time around. In a few weeks time, we return to the April 28 schedule, and we need to see how that plays out, especially during September. Nothing will change immediately, but we need to work towards an acceptable solution for 2015.

The challenge will be how to recover the loss of business this year. Will traffic return if the service becomes more reliable? Can that be achieved by simply tweaking the present schedule, or do we need to revisit some of the decisions made following consideration of the government’s planned service cuts last November?  The FAC will be wanting to hear views from ferry users on that.

What next for our ferry?

FAC Chair, John Hodgkins, reflects on the next challenge facing BC Ferries and the community.

Back in March, the Ferry Advisory Committee sat round the table with BC Ferries and told them exactly them what the community had told us – if ferry services were to be axed (remember, it was government insisting on that) then we wanted to ensure that our late night service was protected, even if it meant cutting some daytime service instead.

And so it was; BC Ferries agreed to implement an alternative schedule that maintained our late night services but cut out two daytime round trips – reintroducing the long midday service break that existed before 2010, but adding two further breaks (one mid-morning; one mid-evening) to minimise labour costs. We knew this would result in busier daytime ferries – and longer line-ups; BC Ferries acknowledged that the new schedule had less time between departures, so maintaining a reliable service would be more challenging. Nevertheless, this was the schedule option the community had told us they preferred – their “least-worst” option.

So now here we are, three months in, and it’s painfully obvious that the new ferry schedule just isn’t working. Ferries run late almost every day and the line-ups on both sides have increased substantially. Our ferry crews are doing their utmost to squeeze every last car onto the ferry, and that’s making the ferry even later. By 3pm last Thursday, Quinsam was no less than 53 minutes late, after a whole series of overloads on the Gabriola side.

The extra round trip that we told BC Ferries was necessary during the peak summer has relieved some of the overloads on the Gabriola side, but it all came too late to avoid the backlogs of traffic during late May and June. Now we’re into peak summer and the overloads are as bad as ever, despite the extra sailing.  To cap it all, the ferry now has to run faster to maintain its schedule, so it’s consuming even more fuel.

Not surprisingly, BC Ferries’ customers are voting with their feet; vehicle traffic on the Gabriola route was down 8.6% in May and June; passenger traffic down 6%.  It’s early days, of course, but it’s worth noting that over the same period, similar routes that hadn’t suffered a cut in service maintained their traffic volume within 1% of last year’s levels. (That 1% drop was widely predicted following the government’s decision to impose half fare for BC Seniors who had previously travelled free). By the end of June, Gabriola’s ferry cuts had cost the corporation – and the community – at least a 5% loss in traffic and revenue.

There’s no doubt that BC Ferries will be looking long and hard at how to recover that situation. And so will the government. Government’s target of a $400,000 net saving still has to be met, but with fuel consumption up and revenue down, the gap is all too clear. Something has to give – and it looks like our four FAC volunteers could be caught in the hot seat once more.

The FAC has asked BC Ferries for early discussions about any potential schedule change. BC Ferries has assured the FAC that whatever is proposed will be opened up for community input before a decision is made. The FAC’s task is to make sure that happens. Last time the government was in the driving seat; this time it’s BC Ferries – though you can be sure that the Minister will still be there in spirit, pulling the strings.

Next month, BC Ferries must submit a ten year financial plan to the Ferry Commissioner – the first stage of an 18-month process that will ultimately determine the shape of ferry services for the four years starting April 2016. The Ferry Commissioner’s responsibility is to determine the scale of future fare increases and the extent to which further cuts will be necessary to balance the books.

As ever, the pressure is on. The FAC volunteers may be small cogs in a very large wheel, but will continue to fight the community’s corner to protect our ferry service. Hodgkins says “A further squeeze is inevitable, but we’ve seen what’s happened when the daytime service is squeezed”. “Next time we need to be better informed, and be prepared to look for a more creative solution – one that actually works”.

It’s not all plain sailing in Washington

As Gabriolans struggle on with the recently-imposed ferry cuts, we’re often reminded that things are so different at Washington State Ferries.

True, the differences are real enough. But they’re not enjoying the best of times there either. In the past week alone, two Washington State ferries have been pulled from service and the 60-year old ferry “Evergreen State” has been plucked out of mothballs to fill some of the gaps.

WENATCHEE_WSF

Photo by M L Jacobs for MarineTraffic.com

Earlier this week, the 202-vehicle Jumbo Class ferry WSF Wenatchee limped into drydock in Vancouver under a Canadian flag for urgent repairs to her main sterntubes, which were leaking. The North Vancouver shipyards were the nearest drydock facility available.

On the same day, Wenatchee’s sister ship WSF Tacoma was left drifting in Puget Sound with 138 vehicles and 405 passengers on board after suffering a complete engine failure. She was eventually towed into Bainbridge Island.

The Wenatchee is due to return to service this weekend, but in the meantime, there have been cancellations on several WSF routes and no  service at all on the Sidney, BC – Anacortes run either yesterday or today.

Getting the message across……

IMG_3293

New traffic signs have now been erected on Taylor Bay Road, directing ferry traffic that cannot join the line-up at the regular turn-around point to continue to the junction with Ivory Way (the campground entrance) where the gravel area has now been cleared and levelled to allow U-turns.

IMG_3301There are also signs on the narrow section where Taylor Bay Road crosses Mallett Creek, reminding drivers not to queue along this short section.

The Ferry Advisory Committee welcomes these new signs as an important reminder of how hazardous this length of road can be if drivers make U-turns close to a blind corner.

Now it’s up to Gabriolans to lead by example.

New traffic signs proposed on Taylor Bay Road

Proposals for new traffic signs to improve safety for drivers joining the ferry line-up have been put forward by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure this week. The new signs should be in place within the next few weeks.

The proposals include:

  • A new advisory “U-Turn Route” sign just beyond the existing turning bay
  • An additional “No U-Turn”  sign (ahead of the existing sign) to prevent U-turns on the sharp bends
  • A new “U-Turn Route” sign at Ivory Way junction
  • Clearing and grading the gravel area at the Ivory Way U-Turn point
  • Additional “No parking on Pavement” signs on the narrow section where Taylor Bay Road crosses Mallett Creek.

Click here or on the image below for a full size version.  The FAC welcomes this proposal as the first stage of a safer traffic management plan for ferry traffic on Gabriola and invites feedback from the community on the proposal using the comments box below.

As the busiest time of year approaches, we urge drivers NOT to leave gaps in the ferry line-up – please park close to the vehicle in front of you, so that the line-up stays as short as possible.  We understand that many drivers prefer not to park on the steepest section near the Taylor Bay Road ‘STOP’ sign – that’s fine – but PLEASE don’t leave gaps elsewhere simply so you can park in the sunshine (or shade).

Taylor Bay Road

Summer ferry schedule starts June 25th

The long-awaited extra midday ferry sailings start next Wednesday (June 25) and run through the summer until Friday, September 5.

The revised schedule affects Mondays to Fridays only, with no change to the present schedule on Saturdays or Sundays.

Ferries leaving Gabriola up to 9.50am and from 3.15pm (Monday through Friday)  run at the same times, but after the 9.50am departure, there will then be sailings at 11.00am, 12.10pm and 1.20pm in place of the usual 11.40am and 12.50pm departures.

From Nanaimo,  departures up to 9.15am are unchanged, after which ferries will leave at 10.25am, 11.35am, 12.45pm and 1.55pm (replacing the usual 11.05am, 12.15pm and 1.25pm sailings). The normal schedule resumes with the 3.50pm departure from Nanaimo. On Wednesdays, the 11.35am departure becomes the Dangerous Cargo sailing.

The extra summer sailings were added at the request of the Ferry Advisory Committee.

FAC Chair, John Hodgkins, still expects there to be some overloads during the summer months, particularly on Thursdays and around holiday weekends.