FAC completes its review of ferry schedules

The Ferry Advisory Committee has now completed the analysis of its recent survey to establish the community’s views on a range of alternative schedule options, and has presented its findings to BC Ferries.

Click on the following links to download full copies of the Survey report (which includes a review of potential community impacts) together with the Appendices which contain almost 1,000 comments submitted as part of the survey.

As a result of our findings, we concluded that:

The responses indicate that the community slightly favours the service offered by Option 1, but the difference between the preference afforded to the three options is marginal.

Since the service offered by Option 3 is, in large part, similar to that offered by Option 1, the majority (almost two-thirds) of respondents to our survey preferred one of these options over the adoption of Option 2. [Option 2 was the only one of the three options in which the first morning departure from Gabriola remained at 5:30 am on weekdays].

Although not offered as an option, some people have indicated they would prefer to stay with the present schedule.

The response from the community indicates that there would be a broad level of public support for measures that will:

  • Improve the on-time performance of the ferry service;
  • Reduce the number of overloads occurring on Gabriola during the daytime;
  • Achieve a more consistent ferry schedule with fewer daily or seasonal variations;
  • Remove the gaps in service during the mid-morning and early afternoon;
  • Reduce overloads on ferries leaving Nanaimo through the afternoon peak;
  • Minimise any additional travelling time for students attending Nanaimo schools;
  • Reduce the mid-evening gap in ferry services leaving Nanaimo, especially on Wednesdays;
  • Maintain a daily late ferry leaving Nanaimo around 11pm.

The achievement of these objectives would, however, have the potential to impact on a number of Gabriola residents, especially those whose work patterns:

  • Require them to arrive in Nanaimo before 7am on weekdays; or
  • Require them to travel home from Nanaimo after a day shift ending at 7:30pm.

Any change to early morning ferry schedules would also impact on opportunities for onward ferry travel to Vancouver on weekdays.

The case for linking the Gabriola ferry schedule to prioritise connections with ferries to and from the Lower Mainland offers no guarantee that services to and from the mainland will be maintained at existing times through 2015 and beyond.

In the light of experience during the summer of 2014, the 10-week peak enhancement to the summer ferry schedule does not adequately address the increased demand for ferry travel to & from Gabriola during the early and late summer months and any seasonal enhancement should, in future, operate for at least 26 weeks a year.

The schedule implemented in April 2014 has been a contributory factor to a decline in vehicle and passenger traffic on Route 19 at a greater rate than has been experienced on similar ferry routes elsewhere on the coast.

The April 2014 ferry schedule has also resulted in a deterioration of on-time performance, especially during the summer months, which must be addressed before Summer 2015.

We believe the schedule implemented in April 2014 is unlikely to have achieved the performance targets set by government and this has increased the risk of further service reductions being imposed on Route 19 within the next 2 years.

Despite the challenges presented by the retiming of the first departure from Gabriola, there are sound arguments in favour of adjusting the ferry schedule to align with Option 1 of the recently suggested alternatives.

It is our strong preference that the implementation of any schedule change should be delayed until March or April 2015 to allow as much time as possible for those who will be most affected to prepare for the changes.

Any schedule changes that are to be made should be made known to the travelling public at the earliest opportunity, together with a definitive date on which the proposed changes are to come into effect.

The Ferry Advisory Committee acknowledges that:

Responsibility for the final determination of the ferry schedule lies with BC Ferries and not with the FAC, however we ask that BC Ferries take account of the views expressed by the community before any change to the schedule is proposed.

Changes to the ferry schedule may result in serious disruption to some Gabriolans. We will continue to work with BC Ferries to achieve a schedule that reflects the needs of ferry users and that supports the economy and health of the community.

Once we have details of BC Ferries’ proposed schedule, they will be posted on this website.

The FAC will continue to work with BC Ferries to monitor the effects of any change in ferry schedules and maintain a dialogue through 2015 and beyond to minimise, where possible, any adverse effects on Gabriola residents.

We are grateful to all of the residents and businesses of Gabriola that contributed to this review by responding to the survey and commenting in other ways. We would also like to thank Steven Earle (Chair of the Islands Trust’s Transportation Advisory Commission on Gabriola) for his valued input to this review.

We welcome further feedback from the community.

Opinions range on changes to ferry schedule

The FAC’s survey aimed at gauging reaction to a range of alternative schedule options closed on October 31 with a total of 590 responses.  Almost 1,000 narrative comments were received explaining why individuals preferred one option over another, or the problems that would be caused to them if one or other option was implemented. We have spent some considerable time analysing the responses and are now drafting a report from the FAC to BC Ferries.

The headline results indicate that the highest proportion of respondents (36%) expressed a preference for Option 1; 31% for Option 2 and 28% for Option 3.  5% of respondents indicated that they preferred to keep the existing schedule than have any of the three options imposed.  We acknowledge that as we didn’t include a ‘do nothing’ option among the alternatives presented to the community, we have no accurate data to show how strong the preference for maintaining the status quo really is.

We are now working through the narrative responses to review the reasons cited as benefits or problems associated with each of the alternative schedule options and we will be using that information to evaluate whether there is a preferred course of action that the FAC can support. We have asked BC Ferries for further information to assist us in that process.

It’s important to recognise that this consultation was initiated by the Ferry Advisory Committee and not by BC Ferries. Since the government forced service cuts in April, vehicle traffic on our ferry route has fallen by 5.5% and passenger traffic by almost 4%. That’s not all down to the service cuts, of course, as rising fares and the imposition of a half fare for BC Seniors have both had an impact as well. But that’s the case on every ferry route – and we do know that on similar routes where there hasn’t been a service cut, traffic has only dropped by about 1%.

We all know that the ferry service this summer has suffered from poor reliability and many more overloads. What is not clear is whether, after taking lost revenue into account,  the reduction in costs achieved on Route 19 has delivered the net financial savings that were required by government. Further changes made to the ferry schedule in September have addressed some of the reliability problems, but they were only a partial fix. If the net savings are not achieved, then we can expect more cuts to be imposed by government – and the FAC’s intervention sought to ensure that the potential impact on the community would fully understood before any further corrective action was proposed.

The FAC aims to issue a full report on the findings of the survey within the next two weeks.  There is no doubt that whatever changes are made, there will be some people who will benefit and some who will be disadvantaged. If the FAC is to endorse any of the options, then we need to be certain that the wider benefit to the community outweighs the impact on any particular group of people. If that certainty isn’t there, then we will not be making a specific recommendation.

We acknowledge that responsibility for the final determination of the ferry schedule lies with BC Ferries and not with the Ferry Advisory Committee, however we will continue to press for an outcome that we believe will be most acceptable to the community

John Hodgkins
FAC Chair

Are you clear what Todd Stone said about ferries this week?

Over the past few days the media has pounced on the Transportation Minister’s about turn on cutting ferries on the Departure Bay – Horseshoe Bay route (one of a number of potential cost saving measures identified in BC Ferries’ submission to the BC Ferry Commission on September 30.)  But are we clear what he really is saying?

These are the key messages from the Minister’s media conference call this week. You can listen to the whole exchange here on the BC government website.

On the subject of Route 2 between Horseshoe Bay and Departure Bay…

  •  There is no appetite within government to see BC Ferries cancel that run.
  •  It is very important for BC Ferries to explore all options that may enable the corporation to whittle down to some degree the ¼ billion dollars of upgrades at Horseshoe Bay.
  •  That could come about through the use of different vessels serving the Departure Bay-Horseshoe Bay route. We’ll see what ideas and options BC Ferries is able to come up with. 

On suggestions to run a passenger only ferry

  •  This government has no interest in supporting or encouraging BC Ferries to launch a passenger only service from Nanaimo to the Lower Mainland.

Are you saying there will be no changes on the Departure Bay/Horseshoe Bay run? Will there be any reduction in service in the future?

  • We’re going to make sure, working with BC Ferries, that the service levels that are required to meet the needs of the people of Nanaimo and the mid island, and folks on the lower mainland side, that those needs are met. At this point no recommendations from BC Ferries have been put on my desk.

 Talking about the two main ferry terminals in Nanaimo:

  • BC government has determined that this is not an issue that we would like to push through at this time. I have decided on behalf of government to officially rule out any consolidation of the two terminals in Nanaimo.

 Describing some of the other cost saving measures that are still on the table: 

  • There are other revenue saving opportunities we’re exploring. Were doing a feasibility study into the potential for a fixed link to Gabriola Island. That could very well come back demonstrating the potential for cost savings.

 Summing up in response to further questions….

  •  There will continue to be two terminals in Nanaimo; there will continue to be a ferry service – a vehicle ferry service – from Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay and there will not be a passenger service – a BC Ferries passenger service – from Nanaimo to the lower mainland.

So that’s all clear then. Unless he changes his mind.

Ferry survey analysis under way

The FAC survey to gauge public opinion on the three alternative schedule options suggested by BC Ferries has now closed, with a total of 590 responses from Gabriolans.

FAC member Dyan Dunsmoor-Farley, who launched the survey on October 13, said I believe is a decent sample (15% of the total population or 29% of total occupied households).  In surveys of this magnitude, that is considered to be a very robust response”.  

Analysis of the responses to the questionnaire and the many hundreds of comments submitted is now under way and the FAC aims to produce its initial response within the next two weeks.  Meanwhile, we’d like to extend a huge thanks to everyone who participated.



Ferry Options survey : responses flooding in

More than 250 people have so far responded to our on-line survey to establish which, if any, of the alternative schedule options offered recently by BC Ferries would most suit their travel needs.

This is an important opportunity for Gabriolans to influence next year’s ferry schedule, and we urge everyone to take a look at the options and then give us your views by completing the online survey here.

If you have problems completing the on-line survey from your computer, it can be accessed on-line at Gabriola Library, or you can download the questionnaire for completion off-line by selecting from one of the links below:

Ferry Schedule Options Survey  - in Microsoft Word format, in which you can enter your responses and save to your computer, for emailing back to us at gabriola.fac@gmail.com

Ferry Schedule Options Survey – in pdf format for printing and handwriting your responses. Completed forms may be returned at Gabriola Library.

The closing date for all responses is October 31, 2014.



Finding an acceptable ferry schedule

This time last year, all the talk was about cuts to our ferry service. Government wanted to slash $400,000 from the cost of running the service and told BC Ferries to cut 834 round trips a year from the route.  Now the hot topic from government is the recently announced feasibility study into a fixed link between Gabriola and Vancouver Island.

Although no-one, it seems, is happy with the present ferry service – especially as fares have continued to rise at twice the rate of inflation – the fact is that the ferry is our primary link to Nanaimo, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Your Ferry Advisory Committee is committed to making our ferry service the best we can achieve.

The government’s original plan to cut our late evening services was roundly rejected by Gabriolans and after much debate an alternative schedule was devised by BC Ferries retaining the late night sailings but reducing daytime services instead. The plan was good in theory, but the reality has been quite different. Delays, overloads and declining traffic became the real outcomes.

The FAC pressed BC Ferries to review the schedule at the end of the summer  and asking for a range of options to be presented for Gabriolans to consider. Our message to BC Ferries was clear. We wanted our reliable service back, and we needed to reduce the overloads on daytime services, while still protecting our late evening service.

The government’s line hasn’t changed. The April service cuts won’t be reversed and the savings still have to be achieved. But at least now we have the opportunity to reflect on which elements of our ferry service are most important to us – and to work with BC Ferries to address as many of the problems as we can. One thing’s for sure – it won’t be easy. We know we’re not going to be able to please everybody. Without extra resources, any extra sailings added to reduce overloads will mean that something else has to give. So when the FAC asked for options, we knew that there would be some difficult choices to consider. We asked BC Ferries to ensure that any options would meet the following parameters:

  • Ensuring the availability of service for shiftworkers starting from 7am and finishing up to 10pm
  • Providing additional turn-round time between sailings to improve punctuality
  • Minimising (or removing) breaks in service at busy times mid-morning and early afternoon
  • Increasing available capacity at busy times, balanced with measured adjustments at times when ferries are least used
  • Ensuring that any seasonal service enhancements operate over a longer summer season (ideally May to October)

BC Ferries has drawn up three options for consideration. Each of these options appears to meet the FAC’s essential criteria, but we now want your views on which option will deliver the best overall balance of service for Gabriola. Your feedback is vital, but first, let’s take a closer look at the three options. Click on the table to see a full-size version.

table format

Option 1 – The first departure from Gabriola would be at 6:15am each day; the longest gap between day-time departures would be 1h 20m on weekdays but with a 2h 35m midday break at weekends. The evening gap for Nanaimo departures would be 7:15 to 9:00pm with the last departure from Nanaimo at 11pm daily.

Option 2 - The first departure from Gabriola would be 5:35am on weekdays and 6:25am at weekends; the longest daytime gap on any day would be 1h 25m, The gap in evening service would be from 6:35 to 8:25pm, with the last departure from Nanaimo slightly earlier at 10:30pm every day.

Option 3 - Similar to Option 1, but to avoid having a long midday service break at weekends, the last departure from Nanaimo would leave slightly earlier (10:30pm) on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays during the winter months, and 10:55pm on Wednesdays through Saturdays. From May to October, the last ferry would leave Nanaimo at 10:55pm every day except Sundays.

What would the ferry schedules look like?

Here’s a summary of the schedule proposed in each Option. Click on the image below for a full-size, printable version.

schedule comparison

How do I make my preferences known?

The FAC has prepared a short on-line survey to enable you to tell us which option works best for you. The survey will also be available in printed form; watch here for further announcements.

******* Click on this link ********   to go straight to the survey.  

The results of the survey will be published here in November and will form the basis of our future discussions with BC Ferries. The preferred schedule is likely to come into operation early in the new year.