Traffic down 10% in May following service cuts

BC Ferries’ latest traffic statistics published today reveal a massive 10.5% reduction in vehicle traffic on the Gabriola route compared to the same month last year. That’s one of the biggest traffic losses on any gulf island route. Passenger traffic during May fell by more than 7%.

It’s early days, of course,  but the 4% fare increase in April, the new charges for seniors’ travel and the cuts in service on April 28th have all hit home in May, leading to lowest May traffic levels on Route 19 for many years. At the same time, we’re seeing overloads on a scale we haven’t witnessed this early in the year.

The FAC has already asked BC Ferries for an urgent review of the new schedule. Vehicle and passenger statistics for May can be found on our Recent Performance page.

FAC meets with BC Ferries to develop new workplan

This morning’s Ferry Advisory Committee meeting with BC Ferries set out to tackle some of the challenges presented by the new ferry schedule – and finished up creating a whole new workplan for FAC members to pursue with BC Ferries ‘ local managers.

The FAC is pleased to welcome Chris Hock as a new member for the remainder of the current FAC term. Chris was nominated recently by the Gabriola Island Chamber of Commerce to represent the Chamber on the committee, filling a vacancy created when Roger Perry moved from the island.

The first part of  the meeting reflected on how the recent schedule change was affecting islanders – and although the new schedule itself continues to meet the majority of travel needs, it’s evident that the FAC’s predictions of more frequent overloads, longer line-ups and a drop in service reliability are all starting to impact on ferry users.

Traffic conditions on Taylor Bay Road are also a major concern with an ever increasing urge for drivers to make illegal U-turns in order to grab a space in the ferry line-up.  As one contributor said, the greater pressure on daytime ferries seems to have created a sense of panic among drivers in their last-minute dash to ensure a place on the ferry. U-turns are being made in several locations where visibility of oncoming traffic is less than 5 seconds, creating significant safety hazards.

BC Ferries has promised to work with the FAC, Ministry of Transportation and local governments to come up with a traffic management plan for the Gabriola ferry line-up.

Several ongoing projects have been identified for referral to a new local liaison group comprising FAC members, BCF local managers and crew representatives. Top of the list will be the monitoring of ferry performance through the summer and the development of options to  address some of the problems identified with the present service.  The group will also contribute to the traffic management plan for the ferry line-up and investigate the potential to allow priority boarding for people travelling for time-sensitive medical treatments.

One further task will be a review of parking arrangements at Descanso Bay to identify options for the future use of any crew parking spaces that are no longer needed by BC Ferries. An element of this study will be to consider whether parking facilities for the Gabriola community bus (GERTIE) can be improved.

The present FAC term comes to an end this year and many of us believe that the value gained from the broader ferry working group established last year to review the government’s ferry cuts points to the need for a larger, more representative Ferry Advisory Committee next year, including nominees from both the RDN and Islands Trust. The major challenge will remain to get the Provincial government to the table and – as Sheila Malcolmson rightly said – finally get Ministers to look ferry users in the eyes, as they once promised to do.


Agenda set for FAC meeting

Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee’s Spring meeting with BC Ferries takes place at The Haven (240 Davis Road) on Tuesday, May 27 from 8.45am until 11am.  A copy of the agenda can be downloaded here.

Our main objective for this meeting is to review the impact of the April 28 schedule change and investigate what adjustments might be desirable.  Another major concern is traffic management on Taylor Bay Road, where queues have become longer and hazardous U-turns are becoming more of an issue.

Members of the public are welcome to attend the meeting; if you wish to raise an issue with BC Ferries please contact the Chair in advance of the meeting and we will ensure that time is available for you to speak. However, this is not an open house session and submissions from the public must be notified in advance. If you’re not able to attend, but would like to have a question raised, please feel free to email us at

Understandably, ferry cuts have been an emotive issue for Gabriolans over recent months, but we do ask everyone to keep in mind that the role of the FAC is to enable dialogue with BC Ferries’ managers on local ferry service issues and to ensure we have sufficient time to address these immediate problems,  the meeting will not debate government policy or non-ferry alternatives.

New ferry schedule – what to expect

Our new ferry schedule starts on Monday (April 28), so what should we expect?

Firstly, and most importantly, ferry times will change for much of the day. Check out the new schedule on our ferry schedule page.

Because the number of departures has been reduced, some sailings will be busier than before, especially those leaving Gabriola between 9am and 4pm and leaving Nanaimo between 1pm and 7pm. To see which are likely to be the busiest sailings go to our best times to travel page. Also, don’t forget to check the Gabriola FerryCam site before you leave home.  Most importantly, allow a little bit of extra time for your journey until the new service settles down.

For everyone’s comfort and safety

There’s no doubt that ferry line-ups will be longer this year, so PLEASE, for the benefit of your fellow travellers, DON’T leave a large gap between you and the car in front. If you do, that may result in others having to line up on the bends and hill where it’s not so safe.

And talking about safety, PLEASE use a safe turn-around point when joining the line-up on Taylor Bay Road. If you can’t turn at the regular turn-around point, please respect the no U-turn signs and carry on to the next safe point. Remember, if you can’t see round the corner, you can’t see that heavy truck coming. Don’t risk it.

Finally, if you can’t get on the ferry, please don’t take it out on the ferry crew. It’s not their fault that the schedule has been reduced; the government gave BC Ferries no choice.

Smiles ‘n Snarls

The Ferry Advisory Committee next meets with BC Ferries on May 27 (8.45-11.00 am at The Haven) to review the first month’s operation of the new schedule. We need as much feedback as possible from ferry users about what’s good – and bad – about the new service. We’ve launched our very own Smiles ‘n’ Snarls page on this website for you to tell us about your journey. How was it for you?  Please be brief (and polite) but if things go wrong, please TELL US. We can’t guarantee that BC Ferries can address every problem, but unless we know about it…..  There’s no limit on the number of times you can add a comment, but they may take a while to appear, as every comment is moderated before it’s published.

Remember, the FAC meeting is open to the public, but it’s not an open house meeting. If there is something you’d like to bring to BC Ferries’ attention, we need to know in advance and we’ll try and ensure there’s time for you to speak at the meeting.


BC Ferries publishes new schedule (updated March 31)

BC Ferries have now published the final schedule which they propose to operate from April 28, 2014. The schedule contains a number of changes requested by the Gabriola Ferry Working Group.

Details of the final schedule can be found on our Ferry Schedule page here.  Please note that a different schedule will apply between June 25 and September 5.

Here’s a summary of the main changes in the latest BC Ferries proposal, compared to today’s service:

  • The first departure from Gabriola on weekdays will leave at 5.30 am, not 5.25 am. It will not operate on Saturdays or Sundays.
  • The 6.30 am departure from Gabriola will now operate 7 days a week.
  • The 7:40 am departure from Gabriola is retimed to 7:35 am. It will NOT operate on Sundays.
  • Departures from Gabriola during the remainder of the morning and early afternoon are retimed (see schedule).
  • During peak summer (June 25 to September 5) a different morning schedule, with one extra sailing, will apply on Monday to Friday.
  • There will be an early afternoon break (approximately 2 hours) when crews will change over.
  • Afternoon peak departures leave Nanaimo at 3:50 pm; 5:00 pm; 6:10 pm; 7:20 pm and 8:20 pm every day.
  • The last departure from Nanaimo will leave at 11:05 pm each evening, except Sundays (10:30 pm)
  • On Wednesdays, the 11:05 am from Nanaimo and 5:35 pm from Gabriola will be restricted to Dangerous Cargo.
  • Wednesday evenings the ferry will be refuelled between 10-11pm. As a result, the 10:05pm round trip from Nanaimo will not operate on Wednesdays.
  • The last departure from Gabriola will be at 9:35 pm on Wednesdays and Sundays and 10:35pm on all other days.

Throughout its dialogue with BC Ferries, the Ferry Working Group took note of feedback from the community and has put forward changes to the proposed schedule to minimise the impact on people who rely on the ferry service for work, education and other essential travel. We came to realise that no single solution would suit everybody – and inevitably there will be a few people whose travel needs will not be served by the new schedule.  We hope you will understand that we could not meet everyone’s needs – and that you will be able to adapt your travel arrangements around the new schedule.

We are all going to find that the ferry will be busier at times – and to assist drivers, the Ferry Advisory Committee has published a guide to the Best Times to Travel which can be found on this website. The new service pattern will be kept under close review during the first few months of operation and the Ferry Advisory Committee will be working with BC Ferries to ‘fine tune’ the schedule over the coming months.

Seniors Travel – where will the extra fares go?

From April 1, BC seniors who presently receive free ferry travel Monday to Thursday will be required to pay 50% of their usual fare. To be clear, this means 50% of the discounted passenger fare if you have an Experience Card, and 50% of the full adult fare if you don’t.

So where will that half fare go – to the government, or to BC Ferries?

Up until now,  each time a senior travels free, the government pays BC Ferries the equivalent of the full adult fare for that journey. So, for each free senior making a round trip  to or from Gabriola, BC Ferries receives $10.30 (the present adult fare) from the BC Social Program. Seniors travelling with a vehicle pay the full vehicle fare ($24.50) or $15.65 if paying with an Experience Card.

From April 1, the amount paid by Seniors ($3 if paid with an Experience Card or $5.15 without) will be offset against the payment that BC Ferries receives from the government’s Social Program fee. So, instead of receiving $10.30, the fee paid to BC Ferries will be $7.30 if an Experience Card was used, otherwise $5.15.  So, the cost to government goes down and BC Ferries is no better off.   Well, no – not quite.

Between now and 2016, the Province budgeted their likely expenditure on seniors’ ferry travel assuming no contribution from seniors. Now, with the fares that seniors will pay from April 1, any reduction in spend through Social Program fees will be added to the Service Fee that government pays BC Ferries to run our ferry routes – so, in the end, the amount that BC Ferries receives from government stays the same – and BC Ferries gets to keep the seniors’ fares too.

According to government, they expected to spend $16 million on supporting seniors’ ferry travel in 2013/14, rising to $17 million next year and $18 million in 2015/16. With seniors paying a percentage from April 1, government estimates the social program fee could drop by around $6 million, which will then be added to the service fee, making BC Ferries $6 million better off.  But if the volume of seniors travel reduces (as it surely will), the number of vehicle fares paid will go down too – and that loss will come straight off BC Ferries’ bottom line.

In 2012/13, the social program fee paid for seniors to make 45,761 return trips between Gabriola and Nanaimo – up 10% on the year before – and likely up to about 50,000 in 2013/14. Assuming 80% of seniors have an Experience Card (as 82% of all passengers do) then BC Ferries can expect to collect around $170,000 in extra income from seniors’ fares on Route 19 next year.  Seniors’ free trips currently represent about 12% of all passenger trips on this route – and those free trips likely account for at least 10% of the number of vehicles travelling. That’s around 37,000 round trip vehicle fares, worth about $650,000 to BC Ferries. So, if seniors travel declines by anything more than 25%, instead of making money out of the deal, BC Ferries starts to lose money.

The present contract between government and BC Ferries runs until March 2016.  After that, it’s all back on the table again.

Notes: All fares quoted in this item are at March 2014 prices and exclude the 3.5% fuel surcharge which was added in January 2014.  Data relating to the number of seniors’ fares funded through the social program is taken from information released by BC Ferries through a FOI request which can be found here.

Ferry traffic hits new low during February

Vehicle and passenger traffic on Route 19 plummeted during February to the lowest level for many years. The number of vehicles recorded was down 17% compared to February 2013, while passenger numbers were down by more than 13%.

Similar trends were recorded across the BC Ferries network, with vehicle traffic on the major routes down by between 4% and 7%. Traffic reductions varying between 3% and 15% were recorded on other minor routes.

The reasons are complex; undoubtedly high fares (and the 3.5% fuel surcharge implemented in January) have taken their toll – but bad weather,  the new BC Family Day holiday and heightened awareness of impending ferry cuts have likely had an impact too.  We’ve all noticed how much space there’s been at times when ferries would typically be full – and March shows little sign of being much better.

It’s unusual to see such a major slump in traffic in a single month – and for that slump to be recorded across the whole ferry system. The next two months will reveal whether this was a one-off or part of a longer-term trend. If it is, then April’s ferry cuts could be just the start.

Vehicle and passenger traffic is updated each month on our Recent Performance page