Update – Back to School Traffic on the Quinsam

Update: As of Monday, Sept. 14th, BC Ferries has confirmed that two buses will also arrive for the 3:45 pm sailing at Nanaimo Harbour Terminal and will travel to Gabriola with students on board.

As NDSS students are set to return to class there will clearly be increased demand for several sailings, in particular the 7:35 am sailing from Descanso Bay. Here are a few key updates from BC Ferries to keep in mind:

  • BC Ferries has coordinated with the Nanaimo Ladysmith Public School District to have two school buses at Descanso Bay each school day morning to transport students in buses on the 7:35 am sailing from Gabriola Island. These buses will be at Descanso Bay Terminal ready to load students before boarding the ferry. Students will remain on board the buses for the duration of the sailing, limiting their interaction with other people on board and freeing up lounge space for other walk-on passengers.
  • BC Ferries is also requesting that all vehicle passengers remain in their vehicles for that same 7:35 am sailing.
  • BC Ferries also reminds customers that all walk-on and vehicle passengers including students are required to wear face coverings at all times when at a BC Ferries terminal or on a BC Ferries ship, with the exception being if a customer is inside a vehicle or consuming food or drinks while maintaining physical distance. As with other COVID-19 regulations, travelers not willing to follow this requirement may be denied travel.
  • For more information please visit https://www.bcferries.com/about/projects/covid-19-back-to-school-faqs.html
  • The Gabriola FAC Facebook account is not monitored. If you wish to contact the FAC please email gabriola.fac@gmail.com for a quicker response.

Mandatory Masks and Increased Foot Traffic

Beginning Monday, August 24, BC Ferries will require customers to wear non-medical masks or face coverings at terminals and while on board ferries. All walk-on and vehicle passengers will be required to wear face coverings at all times when at a BC Ferries terminal or on a BC Ferries ship, with the exception being if a customer is inside a vehicle or consuming food or drinks while maintaining physical distance. Also exempt are customers with an underlying medical condition or disability that inhibits the ability to wear a face covering, those who are unable to place or remove a face covering without assistance, and children under two years of age. This requirement also applies to BC Ferries employees, except those working behind a physical barrier or within employee only areas while maintaining appropriate physical distance.

In addition, students are heading back to school in September, and although we still don’t know exactly what that might look like, we can expect to see a lot more foot passengers on the Quinsam. This will be especially true on the 7:35 am sailing from Gabriola and the 2:25 and 3:45 pm sailings from Nanaimo.  BC Ferries isn’t currently limiting the number of people in lounges on the Quinsam, so passengers will need to take social distancing into their own hands.  The Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) recommends that:

  • foot passengers stay outside on the car deck if the conditions are reasonable,
  • those using the lounges do their best to keep their distance from other passengers, and
  • as per BC Ferries’ new guidelines, all passengers should wear a mask if they are not in their personal vehicle.

Any questions for the FAC about this issue, or any other, can be addressed to: gabriola.fac@gmail.com. (Please do not try and contact the FAC via Facebook or Messenger, as the FAC Facebook account is used for posting only and is not regularly monitored.)

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: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2020EMBC0041-001432.

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 gabriola.fac@gmail.com 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 gabriola.fac@gmail.com 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.