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

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.

September 6 ferry schedule adjusted to help reduce delays

BC Ferries will be adjusting their daytime schedule in early September to help mitigate some of the recent reliability problems. The changes will take effect at the start of the Fall schedule on September 6.

Departures from Gabriola during the morning will be retimed to provide extra time for unloading and loading. Ferries will leave Gabriola on weekdays at 5:30, 6:30, 7:40 (instead of 7:35), then at 8:55, 10:05; 12:00; 1:10 and 3:10.  On Saturdays and Sundays, there will be no change except for the retiming of the 3:15 from Gabriola to 3:10pm.  Later services are unchanged.

Return times from Nanaimo will also be revised from 8 am onwards, with departures at 8:15, 9:30, 11:20, 12:35 and 1:50 Monday to Friday. Departures from 3:50pm onwards are unchanged and there is also no change on Saturdays or Sundays.

BC Ferries’ Director of Fleet Operations Strategy, Peter Simpson, says “This schedule is designed to be more reliable than the current schedule but is not intended to replace the work or our consultation efforts toward finding a better solution.” The FAC is working with BC Ferries to develop alternative options for the community to consider in late September/early October, with a target of early 2015 implementation for the preferred option.

FAC Chair, John Hodgkins, believes that the interim adjustments will help restore some confidence in the service, which has suffered delays of more than 20 minutes on an almost daily basis since May. “It will also help relieve any additional delays created during the reconstruction of the ticket booth at Nanaimo Harbour” he said.

The interim schedule from September 6  is now available on the BC Ferries website and on our Ferry Schedule page.

Year of scrutiny ahead for BC Ferries

Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs attended a series of meetings this week with government officials, the BC Ferry Commissioners and BC Ferries executives to review recent performance and to gain a clearer picture of the steps that are necessary in the lead up to BC Ferries’ Performance Term 4 (PT4) which will run from April 2016 to March 2020.  Gabriola FAC Chair John Hodgkins was there.

On Friday, the release of BC Ferries’ first quarter results coincided with the corporation’s Annual General Meeting, which reported the lowest traffic levels on the coastal ferry system for 23 years – and underlying the $13 million increase in revenues to BC Ferries, the worrying reality that the decline in ridership continues.

At a time when neighbouring Washington State Ferries is reporting an upturn in ridership during the first quarter (+3.4% in passenger traffic; +1.4% vehicle traffic), traffic on BC Ferries routes has continued to decline by almost 0.5% across the board. The decline on some minor routes has been significantly more – especially those routes (such as our own) which suffered significant service cuts.

Looking Back

Inevitably, there is much focus on the impact of the service cuts imposed by government on April 28 to close the funding gap in the current performance term (PT3).  Many of those cuts were modified by BC Ferries to address local concerns and clearly the Gabriola route is not the only one that is going to need some corrective action to deal with unreliability and overloading. The priority though, say BC Ferries, is to ensure that there is adequate time to consult with local communities (via the FACs) before any further changes are made.

At the start of PT3, the Ferry Commissioner set targets for BC Ferries to find $54 million in efficiency savings in addition to the service cuts that have already been made on the minor routes and the $4.9m in savings that have yet to be found from the major routes. BC Ferries is “on track to meet and potentially exceed” the combined $84m target, which should reduce the pressure for higher fare increases or service cuts in PT4.

Deputy Assistant Minister Deborah Bowman, who recently took over responsibility for coastal ferry services from Kevin Richter, acknowledged that “lessons were learned” from the recent community engagement process but she signalled that the government’s approach to ferry services was unlikely to change significantly in the next performance term.

Performance Term 4

Every four years, BC Ferries has to submit its financial plans to the BC Ferry Commissioner, whose task it is to set the fare cap (the maximum increase that BC Ferries can apply to the average fares paid by ferry users). See here for more information on this process.

Ferry Commissioner Gord Macatee described the steps that will be followed in determining the fare cap for PT4.

  • By September 30, 2014 BC Ferries must submit its financial and operational forecasts for 2016-2020 including, for the first time,  a 12-year capital programme covering major projects – primarily vessel and terminal upgrades and vessel replacements. This will be a critical element during PT4 and beyond, as up to 15 of BC Ferries’ fleet will be due for replacement by 2030.
  • During October 2014, the Ferry Commission will publish the BC Ferries submission on its website and invite public comment. Financial consultants PWC will conduct an independent evaluation of BC Ferries’ submissions
  • On March 30, 2015 the Ferry Commissioner is required to publish the Preliminary Fare Cap for 2016-2020.
  • By June 30, 2015, BC Ferries and the government are required to finalise any proposed changes to the Coastal Ferry Services Contract and provide a copy to the Ferry Commissioner.
  • Following input from government and public consultation, the Final Fare Cap will be published on September 30, 2015. 
  • PT4 starts on April 1, 2016.

Performance Reviews

The BC Ferry Commissioner has determined that a number of Performance Reviews of BC Ferries will be conducted in the coming months to inform his evaluation of BC Ferries’ financial forecasts.  The purpose of Performance Reviews is to hold the operator (BC Ferries) accountable, and by doing so raise public confidence that the company is operating efficiently, making prudent use of its resources and operating in such a way as to keep ferry fares as low as reasonably possible. Among the organisations that have requested reviews was the Islands Trust Council

The findings of a recent Performance Review of the progress towards the implementation of BC Ferries’ Automated Customer Experience (ACE) Program can be found here.  The ACE Program is a large, complex – and costly – set of IT initiatives designed to enable BC Ferries to develop new business management capabilities.

We understand that four further Performance Reviews are planned over the coming months. These will examine:

  • The organisational efficiency of BC Ferries , with specific comparisons to Washington State Ferries and others
  • The cost-efficiency of current Homeporting* arrangements at BC Ferries
  • The financial performance of the BC Ferries Vacations business
  • BC Ferries’ Fuel Management strategies

* Homeporting refers to the arrangements made for overnight docking of vessels and the locations from which ferry crews are employed.

In recent years, the report by the BC Comptroller General to government in 2009 found BC Ferries’ operations “to be well managed and reasonably effective” but called for improvements in governance “to ensure strong oversight and accountablily”.  A subsequent investigation commissioned by the BC Ferry Commissioner as part of a Review of the Coastal Ferry Act  in 2012 found that “Among publicly-owned systems, BC Ferries appears to be relatively efficient” following analysis by PWC of similar ferry systems in North America and Europe.

However, there continues to be much concern about the underlying reasons for the high cost of coastal ferry services in British Columbia and the impact that escalating ferry fares have had on island communities and the local economy. At a time when the pressure on ferry fares has never been greater, the Ferry Commissioner’s decision to carry out these Performance Reviews will surely be widely welcomed.

Student transportation arrangements clarified

Information has now been received from School District 68 clarifying the planned transport arrangements for Gabriola students for the early dismissal on Mondays at NDSS next term.

It has been decided that on Mondays, students will remain supervised at NDSS (unless they choose to leave the school) until the regular bus pick up time of 3:10 PM. These changes will be made on the SD68 web site and students will have access to the cafeteria to be able to study or do homework.

Students will return to Gabriola by ferry at the usual time (3:50 pm). On Fridays, students will return on the ferry at 1:50pm from Nanaimo.