Province Cancels Priority Boarding for Residents; Improves Access to Priority Loading for Medical Purposes

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth has rescinded the order giving priority boarding on BC Ferries to local residents, but has implemented provisions to improve medical-assured loading on the first available vessel for any individual, their vehicle and an escort. For full details you can view the Province’s Press Release here:

The new regulations mean that a Medical Assured Loading letter can apply for a period of time (up to year) rather than for specific appointments on specific dates. A completed Travel Assistance Program (TAP) form is also required. This development should make it easier for Gabriolans travelling for medical services on Vancouver Island. The FAC is pleased to see this change, as the need for a letter for each appointment or that stipulated specific dates was onerous for both patients and for health-service providers.

Priority Boarding for Gabriola Residents

The Province has asked BC Ferries to give residents and essential service providers priority boarding on Route 19 (and most other routes) during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Effective July 20th, drivers arriving at the Nanaimo terminal will be asked if they fall into one of those categories. Those that don’t will be put on standby and will be allowed to board when there is room. There will be no similar prioritization on the Gabriola side (presumably due to a lack of facilities), and foot passengers will not be affected at either end. ***The Gabriola FAC did not have input into this change and has no further information at this time.***

FAC Update – Meeting Held Between FAC Chairs and BC Ferries

Gabriola FAC Chair Steven Earle provided the following summary of a telephone meeting which was held yesterday between BC Ferries management and the Chairs of the various BC Ferries Advisory Committees. This summary is provided in the interest of keeping the Gabriola and Mudge Island communities as informed as possible. The FAC has no further information at this point.

BC Ferries CEO Mark Collins (along with Darin Guenette and Brian Anderson) met with the FAC Chairs yesterday.

Mark described the process behind the cuts to the minor routes (including the cuts on the Gabriola-Nanaimo route slated to start in October).  BCF is required to give the government 90-days’ notice of cancellation of “above contract” sailings, and they did so back in mid-March.  At the time they asked the government to waive the 90 days so that they could start making cuts during the slow period, but this was not approved.  Mark admitted that it was a mistake on the part of BCF not to let the FAC chairs know that these cuts were coming.  He apologized for that but did not provide a reason (except to say that there had been ongoing discussion with the minister).

BCF continues to lose in the order of $750,000 per day because they are still operating ferries that are less than half full (although the situation is improving).  The money to cover the losses is coming from the reserve fund which is intended for capital projects.  BCF is making every effort to cut costs (including the small cuts to our route) but Mark said that if they run out of reserve cash they will not be able to continue operating.  So far, there has been no offer of help from either the provincial or federal governments.

Many capital projects are now on indefinite hold.  This includes work at the Horseshoe Bay and Langdale terminals and of course at Nanaimo Harbour and on Gabriola, but it doesn’t include the four new Island 47 vessels (two of which are destined for our route), nor a new Salish vessel.  Mark said that the proposed work at Nanaimo will go ahead, but that the new berth will not be bult at this time (nor the new tie-up berth for the two-vessel operation).  When asked about that he said that BCF will rent a tie-up berth from Nanaimo Harbour Authority once the two new vessels are put into service. Work on the Gabriola terminal is also on hold indefinitely.

-Steve Earle for the Gabriola FAC

Schedule Change

As many of you are aware from various news sources and social media, BC Ferries recently announced that they were cutting “above contract” sailings on a number of routes including the Gabriola-Nanaimo run in response to financial pressures created by the impact of COVID-19 on ferry travel. The FAC has negotiated with BC Ferries in an attempt to minimize the impact on the community of the proposed cuts. While obviously we would prefer that our schedule remain untouched and we are saddened to lose gains that were hard-won, we believe that the compromise reached with BC Ferries represents the best possible outcome for our community in these challenging times.

Under the agreement reached with BC Ferries, there will be no cuts to our schedule until after the Thanksgiving weekend. From October 17th 2020 through May 16th, 2021, excluding the Easter Weekend, the 1:50 and 2:25 sailings on Saturdays and Sundays will be cancelled – essentially a return to our previous schedule. These sailings will also be cancelled on November 11th (Remembrance Day) and January 1st (New Years Day). All other sailings remain the same.

For more information check out the Sounder article here.

Upcoming FAC Meeting

The next meeting of the Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee will be Wednesday, Oct 23rd from 10:30 am – 1:00 pm at the GAC Hall.

Members of the public are invited to attend this meeting. Agenda items include Taylor Bay Rd. line up issues and the early morning safety announcements played while the ferry is docked in Descanso Bay.

If you are unable to attend this meeting but would like to provide input please feel free to email us at with details of your question or concern.

Ferry Updates

The mid-evening break instituted after the service cuts of 2014 has created serious and ongoing hardship for Gabriola ferry riders – in particular families with children and teenagers who participate in Nanaimo-based after school activities. In fact, when the community was surveyed regarding which part of the service island residents most wanted to see restored, responses were almost evenly split between the option of restoring early morning service and eliminating the mid-evening break, with emotions running extremely high on both sides.

In June the FAC proposed to BC Ferries a few small adjustments to the schedule that we believe could provide significant relief for those impacted by the break, while at the same time improving on-time performance. Parents told us that while the problem is created by having a gap of 1 hr and 45 minutes between the two mid-evening sailings from Nanaimo, changing the schedule so that the 7:15 left as little as 20 minutes later would make a critical difference for a large percentage of riders. Keeping this in mind, as well as the need for the half-hour meal break for officers (which starts as soon as the last car is unloaded and is as close as is practical to the middle of the shift), the FAC attempted to rework the evening schedule in such a way that it would better meet the needs of both crew and passengers.

BC Ferries has informed us that they will be implementing the new schedule on September 3rd. While we realize that no schedule change will please everyone, we hope that this adjustment will provide a small measure of relief for some of those who have been negatively impacted by the break.

The FAC, with the strong support of the Gabriola RCMP, also continues to press BCF and MOTI for a solution to our serious ferry line up issues.

Next FAC Meeting

The next meeting of Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee will be Monday May 13th from 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm at the GAC Hall.

Members of the public are invited to attend this meeting. There will be a Town Hall session at the end where you will be invited to participate.

If you are unable to attend this meeting but would like to provide input please feel free to email us at with details of your question or concern.

Updated Terminal Development Plan

BC Ferries has updated the Terminal Development Plan for Descanso Bay. This plan has now been officially approved by BC Ferries management and is well worth a few minutes of your time to review. The FAC looks forward to continuing to engage with BC Ferries on design considerations and potential timelines for implementation.

Please click the image below to download the file.

FAC Opts for Restoration of Early Sailings

As most of you  are aware, the provincial government recently agreed to fund restoration of some of the sailings lost in 2014 on some routes. On the Gabriola-Nanaimo route we were first offered just one choice—the restoration of early morning sailings. The FAC requested the alternative of restoring sailings in the mid-evening gap, and then Gabriolans were asked to choose between the two options. The vote was almost exactly evenly split, and so the final decision has had to be made by FAC members, knowing that just about half of Gabriolans would not get what they wanted. In the meantime, we realized that the early morning option did not guarantee getting onto the first sailing out of Departure Bay, made it difficult for people starting a 7 AM shift in Nanaimo and was sufficiently tight to create a high risk of getting behind schedule early in the day. We asked BC Ferries three times to make some changes, and they finally agreed to have the first two sailings of the AM option leave 10 minutes earlier than first proposed.

The 10 members of the FAC have now agreed (by a margin of 9 to 1) that the best option for Gabriola is to restore the early sailings. However this was a very difficult decision and the FAC takes the feedback we received from the community about the mid-evening gap very seriously. We will make it a top priority to work with BC Ferries to make changes to the evening schedule so that the gap between the 19:15 and 21:00 departures from Nanaimo can be reduced. We believe that slight alterations to the schedule could improve on-time performance and simultaneously provide better service for those who expressed such clear disappointment with the evening gap. We will also work to ensure that that the evening gap is eliminated when the schedule is revised for the two new Island 47 ferries and will advocate for changes to be made to the weekend schedules so that they match the new weekday schedules.

The revised schedule is expected to come into effect on April 27th. As of that date the two mid-afternoon weekend sailings (13:50 and 14:25) will also be restored throughout the year.

Revised Schedule effective April 27/19

Have Your Say – Options for Restoring Service on the Gabriola-Nanaimo Ferry Route

As directed by the provincial government, BC Ferries is restoring some of the service that was cut from minor routes in 2014. On the Gabriola-Nanaimo route this will include restoration of all of the mid-afternoon weekend sailings–year-round. It will also include restoration of a single additional round-trip on weekdays, according to one of the following options:
Service Options
Option 1 Restoration of the early morning sailing on weekdays, leaving Gabriola at 5:25 am and Nanaimo at 5:55 am (shown in red). That 5:25 am departure should allow Gabriolans to make it to Departure Bay in time for the 6:15 am sailing to Vancouver. With this option most of the rest of the sailing times will be the same as what we have now.

Option 2 Restoration of the mid-evening sailings on weekdays. This involves some juggling of the schedule starting in the middle of the afternoon (although the 3:45, 5:00 and 6:10 pm sailings from Nanaimo would not change). It also means that the last sailing of the day on weekdays would be 11:30 pm from Nanaimo (compared with 11:00 pm now). The weekends would stay very close to what we have now.

The FAC has created an on-line survey so that Gabriolans can let us know which of these options they prefer. We urge respondents to consider not just your personal preference but also what you believe is in the best interests of the whole community. We’re hoping for a strong response to the survey and a clear preference for one of the two options. If the result is close to 50:50, then the FAC will have to consider all the information we have and make a decision that we feel is in the best interest of all Gabriolans. Whichever choice is made, it is expected that the changes will take effect on or before May 1st. It’s important to remember that we are going to have 2 ferries operating on this route within about 3 years, and that the schedule will change again at that time.

The survey is available here. Printed copies of the survey are also available in the library. Please take the time to let us know what you think. BC Ferries wants to implement the new schedule as soon as possible, so time is of the essence. The survey will close at midnight on Wednesday, March 27 (printed copies must be received at the Gabriola Library by 7pm Wednesday, March 27).