Passenger fare discounts in March – but no change to Experience Card fares

BC Ferries today announced further fare discounts between March 10-29, with 30% discounts on selected sailings on Mondays to Thursdays and Saturdays.  The standard round-trip passenger fare between Nanaimo and Gabriola will be $7.85 for adults and $3.95 for children – and for BC Seniors on Monday to Thursday.

For anyone with an Experience Card, though, standard passenger fares are already discounted  by 42%, so your fares won’t change.

These are the sailings on which the 30% discount applies:


No bridge to Gabriola, says Minister

Government-funded study concludes costs outweigh benefits of bridge to Gabriola Island


Results of the Gabriola Island Fixed Link Feasibility Study conclude that while a bridge appears to be technically feasible, it would not be a cost-effective alternative to the current ferry link.

Because of this, the Government of British Columbia will not consider a fixed link to Gabriola Island at this time.

“There is simply not enough compelling evidence to proceed with further work on a fixed link to Gabriola Island,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone. “Our goal is ensure coastal communities are connected in an affordable, efficient and sustainable manner. This study shows that continuation of a coastal ferry service for Gabriola Island residents is the best way to achieve that goal.”

The study examined alignments, road connections, construction cost, operation and maintenance costs, travel time, reliability and flexibility for potential users. It also includes a high‐level assessment of the socio-economic and environmental impacts of such a connection. Feasible options were evaluated against the existing ferry service.

The study confirms that a number of combinations of possible road and bridge options exist, ranging in cost from $258 million to $520 million. The average estimated project cost is $359 million, on which the business case was based. However, the costs outweigh the measured benefits.

Beyond the business case, the study notes there are other significant considerations for government if the project were to proceed, including archaeological and environmental conditions.

The report was prepared for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure by CH2MHill.

Learn more:

The Gabriola Island Fixed Link Feasibility Study is available on the ministry’s website:


FAC public meeting on November 2

The Fall meeting of the Ferry Advisory Committee takes place this Monday (November 2) starting at 3pm in the GAC Hall (behind the Post Office) in Gabriola.

FAC members have asked BC Ferries for information about the results of the recent passenger fare reduction and for an explanation of the level of savings achieved by the 2014 service cuts to our route. We have also asked BC Ferries to provide a review of the impacts of the April 2015 schedule change including, specifically, the early afternoon gap in the schedule at weekends.

With a five-week experimental fare discount on vehicle fares starting later this month, we will be asking BC Ferries whether the FAC’s plan (which we discussed at the May meeting) for long-term reductions to evening and weekend fares could now become a reality.

Members of the public are invited to come along and listen to the discussion on Monday; anyone wishing to speak at the meeting should make their wish known to the Chair before the start of the meeting.  In my absence, Steven Earle will be taking the chair for this meeting.

The full agenda can be found here .

BC Ferries discounts vehicle fares for five weeks

BC Ferries today announced a five-week vehicle fare discount promotion on selected sailings on all ferry routes starting November 16.

Between November 16 and December 19,  standard vehicle fares will be 50% of the regular price, with vehicle fares for Experience Card users reduced by about 20%. The reduced vehicle fares will be available on Mondays to Thursdays and Saturdays. Regular fares will apply on Fridays and Sundays.

For Gabriolans, this means that a round-trip vehicle fare on discounted sailings will cost $13.25, down from the regular vehicle fare of $26.45. Experience Card users will pay $13.25 instead of $16.90. Reduced fares will be available on sailings leaving Nanaimo at the following times:

vehicle fare reductionsNormal passenger fares will apply during this promotion.

The 50% discount on vehicle fares will also be available on specified sailings to and from the mainland from Departure Bay and Duke Point. Full details can be found on the BC Ferries website

Onward travel connections – Fall 2015

The start of the Fall schedules bring changes on a number of ferry, bus and air services to and from Nanaimo.  Check out our Onward Travel Connections page for details of revised fall and winter schedules on the following routes:

Ferry loading and unloading – the mystery unravelled

Always a topic of debate, we asked BC Ferries to explain the logic – and what’s changed – when it comes to loading and unloading vehicles from Quinsam.

First, the short answer

– BC Ferries has a standard for all crews and are striving for consistency in loading/unloading.
– Yes, there was a trial procedure in the past months, and customers may have seen differences between crews.
– However, because no two loads are identical, the loader/discharger require some flexibility in order to minimise risk and maximise efficiency, and are expected to use their discretion in the execution of their duties.

Now, the longer answer

Because of the variety of traffic that arrives for each sailing, there has to be some flexibility and 100% consistency is not a practical objective. However, BC Ferries does aim for consistency across all crews. To this end, the following are now our standard loading and unloading procedures, where traffic conditions permit:


–      The first three vehicles in line are directed down lane 1 (middle),
–      The next three are loaded down lane 2, and the three vehicles following that are put down lane 3.
–      Next, large vehicles (commercials, RVs etc) are loaded down the remainder of lane 1.
–      Full size trucks and larger personal vehicles are loaded down lanes 2 and 3.
–      Finally, small vehicles are loaded down the outboard lanes (4 & 5).

The reason for loading our traffic lanes according to vehicle size, is to provide sufficient space between vehicles and enable customers to get out of their cars. We have found from experience that this is the best method of loading the ship so as to ensure we carry as many vehicles as possible.


–      The first three vehicles from lane 1, 2 and 3 are discharged first.
–      Then, the remainder of the centre lane is unloaded, followed by the lanes on either side (Lanes 2 & 3).
–      Finally, the outboard lanes (4 and 5) are discharged last.

Why has BC Ferries adopted this standard?

This process was started earlier this year after a couple of accidents on deck where large vehicles contacted smaller vehicles in the lane immediately to starboard of the centreline. By clearing the area occupied by the first three vehicles in the three middle lanes, we alleviate some risk, where larger vehicles turning onto the ramp risked hitting the sides of these cars and trucks. This is particularly important in Gabriola, where the ship tends to lie at a slight angle to the ramp. It also helps to open the working area on the bow of the ship for our crew, thus improving workplace safety. In addition, this attempts to ensure that the first 9 vehicles on, are the first 9 vehicles off, although this is completely dependent on the expected traffic.

Trial & Results

Yes, in an attempt to address customer concerns, a trial was run using one of our watches this summer. After ‘the first nine vehicles’, we offloaded the lanes either side of the centre lane first, followed by the outboard lanes and finally the centre lane. The idea behind this was to hold back the large heavy commercial vehicles and large recreational vehicles so that they did not hold up smaller, faster traffic, and it also enabled us to load the centre lane last, but retain some semblance of discharging in the order of loading.

This trial had positive and negative aspects, but we felt that the current method of middle lane first was safer and more efficient. Because this was done with just one of three watches (crews), customer comments regarding inconsistency may have come from experiencing this trial on occasion.


Although the process outlined above is now being used as the standard procedure for all watches, the type of traffic that is actually boarding may dictate discretion in the process. For example, large loads of commercial/RV traffic may mean the crew needs to alter the standard to ensure they can safely load as many vehicles as possible. The most common adjustment is that we do not load the first three cars in the centre lane, because we require this space for large or commercial traffic. Additionally, space in the adjacent lanes may also need to be made for commercial vehicles.

As well, crew are expected to use their discretion and break from the normal procedures where they perceive that contact between vehicles could result due to lack of space between the lanes or any other reason. As our crew cannot see the entire mix of traffic waiting when loading in Gabriola, they need to load for the traffic that they expect to receive based on the time of year, day of the week, time of day and/or expected commercial traffic.

Ultimately, we do our very best to ensure that we carry as many vehicles as we can in a safe and efficient manner. Whether a customer is loaded into the centre lane or one of our outboard lanes is not a reflection upon the individual driving the vehicle, but upon the size of the vehicle that they are driving and the other factors outlined above.

Our thanks to Quinsam’s Senior Master, Captain Mark Waugh, for providing this comprehensive explanation.

A look back at 2014 : ferry cuts and fares for seniors

On April 1 2014, a new 50% charge was introduced for BC Seniors who had previously received free ferry fares on Monday to Thursdays. Four weeks later, the provincial government imposed service cuts on most of the minor and northern ferry routes to deliver $14 million net savings by March 2016.

Both measures caused outcry among ferry users and for some island communities the reduction in ferry service had an immediate impact, both on islanders’ day to day lives and on the local economy. Not surprisingly, both measures also led to a further decline in ferry use though, a year later, some of that ferry traffic is starting to return.

Despite many requests, BC Ferries has been reluctant to reveal whether the service reductions have actually achieved the targets set by government, or at what cost to their customers. Now, with the publication of BC Ferries Annual Reports for the year to March 31, 2015, some of the financial outcomes are becoming more evident.

A report compiled by FAC Chair, John Hodgkins attempts to interpret BC Ferries’ published data to determine whether the financial effects of these measures are now clearer. Using best estimates to fill in some of the unknowns, the indications are:

  • The number of ferry trips made by Seniors fell by 13% in Fiscal 2015 compared to Fiscal 2014. The reduction was greatest on the major routes (15%) and averaged 8% on the minor routes. BC Seniors contributed about $8 million in extra fares revenue to BC Ferries, though this will have been offset in part by a potential $2.5 million loss of income from vehicle fares.
  • It is not possible to obtain reliable estimates of the net annual savings achieved from the service reductions using published cost and revenue data alone. There is however sufficient evidence to suggest that the reductions in operating cost achieved on some routes in FY2015 provided a wide (maybe excessively wide) margin to ensure the delivery the net annual savings mandated by government. The net savings achieved on some routes are almost certainly below the targets mandated by government, whereas on other routes the net savings delivered will have substantially exceeded those targets.

These findings were shared with BC Ferries and with government officials ahead of meetings with FAC Chairs in August.   BC Ferries confirms that the savings have been delivered, but is not proposing to release the route-by-route details because of concerns about commercial confidentiality. The Provincial government takes the view that the cuts have been made, the savings achieved and they therefore have no interest in individual route outcomes.

Download the full report here